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What Derrick White’s return means for the Spurs

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Having White back should help the starters, but will also change the rotation to the point where there could be an odd man out.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at San Antonio Spurs Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The starters have been a disaster this season. Can Derrick White fix that?

Marilyn Dubinski: Assuming the passive version of him is gone and Bubble White is here to stay, he definitely can. The starters begin both halves extremely slow, playing a big role in the staggering difference between the Spurs first/third and second/fourth quarters ratings. Those slow starts can be tied to both ends of the court, with poor ball movement early on offense and being slow to get back on defense. White can change both of those things if they put the ball in his hands and tell him to be the aggressor early. I’m not sure if he alone can truly “fix” the starters, but if he can get them closer to neutral while a boosted bench (that will likely feature either Lonnie Walker or Keldon Johnson) continues to demolish opponents and create separation, they will definitely be better.

Mark Barrington: I think it will improve, partly due to Derrick White, and partly due to LaMarcus Aldridge finding his rhythm. He had shoulder surgery last year, and he’s a rhythm player, and I think people underestimated the time it would take for him to come back at full strength. At this point in his career, he’s not a great defender, but I’m not convinced that he’s as bad as he’s been so far this season. And his offense is starting to wake up in the recent games. If he shoots consistently from outside, he will keep the lane from getting as clogged as it has been recently.

Bruno Passos: He should certainly help. The issue with the starters has primarily been on the defensive end, where their net rating is north of 120. As the best on-ball defender on the team, he should make life easier for everyone with his physicality and willingness to take charges. If he can approximate the kind of off-ball threat he was last season, he should also be a net positive on offense, even if he takes the place of Lonnie Walker, who’s proven a reliable threat from deep this season.

Jesus Gomez: The starting unit has been bad for basically the entire DeRozan-Aldridge era, so tasking White with fixing it would be unfair. There’s also the question of which White we’ll see, particularly early on. If his time away makes him inconsistent for a while, he could initially even complicate things further. But if he’s back to being the player we saw in the bubble, he should at least help that lineup find an identity by bringing in extra ball handling and disruptive defense. Having him around could also free up DeRozan of some shot creation responsibilities and make the perimeter defense more cohesive. I’m not expecting the starters to suddenly give the bench big leads to work with, but maybe they can stop getting into holes early in the first and third quarter, which would be a huge improvement.

J.R. Wilco: White doesn’t need to fix everything, he first needs to help the starters break even — and taking Walker’s spot in the starting unit could accomplish that. Derrick’s ability to initiate in the pick-and-roll, his excellent decision making, and his high-level defense all work toward beefing up the starters’ ability to hang with opponents through the first 6-7 minutes of the first and third quarters. If the team managed to play over .500 without him, surely they can improve on that when they don’t have to dig themselves out of an early hole practically every night

What do you think the rotation will look like once White is back? What does this mean for Walker and Vassell?

Dubinski: I know Devin Vassell’s one DNP came a game White played in, but surely he has proven at this point that he’s too special of a player with way too much potential to be glued to the bench. My guess is Walker (29 mpg), Vassell (18 mpg), Johnson (31 mpg), Dejounte Murray (31 mpg), Patty Mills (26 mpg) and possibly some others will all surrender a few minutes to make room for White. It may vary from night-to-night, depending on who’s hot, and they may have less room for error before getting benched if they’re having an off night, but this young group is too deep with too much future potential for Pop to not give them all minutes. He’s just going to have to find a way to manage a ten-man rotation instead of nine.

Barrington: At this point, probably the guy who’s going to lose the most minutes is going to be Walker, but Vassell will also spend a bit more time on the bench. Only nine players got minutes in the Celtics game, and with Derrick back, Pop will go back to his regular strategy of giving at least 10 players significant minutes, so expect all of the starter minutes to be lower, at least until the playoffs. Tre Jones should book his ticket to Orlando, because he won’t get off the bench as long as all of these guys are available.

Passos: That is one crowded perimeter rotation, and the kind of redundancy the front office should address—eventually. I would guess that Walker makes sense as the casualty among the starters given Pop’s willingness to play Keldon Johnson as the de facto 4. My hope is that Vassell retains some kind of role on the team given what he’s shown, including the fact that he’s already one of the best defenders on the team. Another domino effect to consider: what happens to the league’s most potent fivesome of Dejounte + the 4 current bench players amid the shuffle?

Gomez: The obvious answer as to who should be benched in favor of White is Walker, since Johnson’s size and physicality are much needed on what is a very small unit. I worry about three-point shooting with that shuffle, since Walker has been by far the best marksman on the starters, but the hope is that Aldridge and Murray will start hitting shots eventually. As for Vassell, it will depend on whether Pop decides on a nine-man rotation, or goes 10 deep. It will be tricky to find him minutes without reducing the playing time of another young player, simply due to positional overlap, but it could be doable. Worst case scenario, he goes to the G-League for a while and gets plenty of minutes as a ball handler to develop that part of his game, which doesn’t sound too bad.

Wilco: The problems that arise from an embarrassment of riches are always more fun to face than those that come from scarcity. Having additional alternatives is a good thing, and White being another option in Pop’s tool belt will allow him to react to more situations in a variety of ways. That means guys will have more or less playing time depending on the situation and who’s playing best at the moment. Whoever has difficulty thriving in that environment will likely see a dip in minutes. Hopefully, everyone will handle it well.