The Spurs have long been the gold standard for defensive excellence since Gregg Popovich took over head coaching duties during the late 1990s. Need proof? Look no further than their impressive point-stopping resume over the last 24 years.
San Antonio has registered a top-five defensive rating in 18 different seasons and led the league in that category seven times with Pop at the helm. Their next worst rankings are 8th, 10th, 11th, 19th, 25th, and 29th, with the latter occurring the year Pop took over for Bob Hill midseason.
The Silver and Black are an organization filled with All-Defensive Team and Defensive Player of the Year alumni like George Johnson, Alvin Robertson, David Robinson, Dennis Rodman, Tim Duncan, Bruce Bowen, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Dejounte Murray. And Derrick White narrowly missed joining this exclusive club when he fell short of an All-Defensive nomination a year ago.
This season, many expected White to make a significant jump after a breakout series against the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the 2019 playoffs. Unfortunately, between the conundrum of reintegrating Dejounte back into the lineup and the confusing rotation configurations, Derrick never had much of a chance to build upon his progress.
In fact, despite playing some noticeably improved basketball, the former Colorado Buffalo started 42 fewer contests and saw his minutes per game decrease. Though that may lead many to believe he would have worse odds at garnering an All-Defensive designation, his astounding production in limited court time might actually work in his favor.
White may not have spent as much time protecting the perimeter as other guards, but a variety of numbers show that his defensive impact was just as great if not better than some of his competitors. Derrick leads all guards in blocks (55), is second in charges drawn (19), and has contested the fourth-most shots (497) at the guard spot. What’s more impressive is the fact he has played at least 271 fewer minutes than anyone leading him in those three categories.
Every single block by Derrick White during the 2019-2020 NBA season.— Noah Magaro-George (@N_Magaro) March 19, 2020
The third year Spur led all guards with 55 rejections before the hiatus. pic.twitter.com/6qN0uhYtUW
Even the advanced analytics say Derrick stands out from the rest of the field. According to ESPN, White places 14th in the league in Real Defensive Plus-Minus (0.26) out of all point guards to register at least 24 minutes per game. And though his Defensive Rating has risen four points from a year ago (114), that has more to do with San Antonio plummeting from the 19th ranked defense to 25th this season.
As for those who would like to point out his strikingly low amount of deflections (88), that can easily be explained away by his conservative style of play combined with average athleticism and a six-foot-seven-and-a-half-inch wingspan. For comparison, lanky guards of a similar height like Murray, Kris Dunn, and Matisse Thybulle all possess long limbs measuring near seven feet in length.
To be completely fair, smaller guys like Chris Paul (2nd), Fred VanVleet (3rd), and Kyle Lowry (13th) dominate the guard deflections leaderboard, so what’s Derrick’s excuse? Well, it also helps that the aforementioned players primarily defend point guards while White spends most of his time chasing the other team’s best perimeter scorer around.
The third-year guard is often tasked with stopping superstar caliber players, and that’s not exactly a walk in the park. I took a look at the tape, and White spent extended periods guarding the likes of Bradley Beal, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Devin Booker, and Donovan Mitchell. Of course, they occasionally got the best of him, but he did a standup up job of keeping them contained.
In spite of putting together a remarkable shot-blocking season for a six-four wingman, I expect White to fly under the radar come award season, and that almost feels appropriate given his unassuming demeanor. Will Derrick receive an All-Defensive Team nod in his third go-round? Probably not. Does he deserve legitimate consideration for the end of the year honor? Most definitely.
The 25-year-old combo-guard has carved out a successful NBA career from Division II beginnings behind his strong work ethic, spectacular footwork, uncanny instincts, and sky-high basketball IQ. As long as he continues erasing points and improving year-to-year, it’s only a matter of time before the voters reward him for his efforts.