The Celtics had an active trade deadline, but the cornerstone of their activity was their acquisition of Spurs guard Derrick White.
About an hour before the deadline, the Celtics sent Josh Richardson, Romeo Langford and a first-round pick to the Spurs for the 27-year-old guard. Here are five things to know about the newest Celtic.
White is an impressive defender
Here’s a play unearthed by Cody Houdek.
To recap, this is a 6-foot-4 guard who spotted a problem unfolding in his team’s defense and then plugged the leak by rotating and grabbing a dunk away from hyper-athletic, 6-foot-11 center.
That type of play might remind you of a certain point guard currently on the Celtics’ roster (he wears the No. 36 and his return to the lineup recently sparked a complete turnaround of the Celtics’ season). Defensively, White is a menace — instinctive and aggressive. He averages a steal per game and seems to get a lot of them simply by sticking his hands straight up in the air at the right time — like a linebacker reading a quarterback’s eyes.
With White on the floor, the Spurs were 8.1 points per 100 possessions stingier defensively than when he was off the floor per Cleaning the Glass. That’s a particularly impressive mark given that guards rarely affect a team’s advanced defensive statistics, and White ranks in the 94th percentile among guards as a result.
With White, the Celtics have the potential to be a lethal, unique defensive group. He’s second in the league in blocks per game among players who might be considered guards at 0.9, trailing only Matisse Thybulle. As Houdek noted, he’s good at pulling his body back away from a driving player, but he’s also good when he needs to make up ground in a hurry even though he isn’t a freak athlete or particularly long (by NBA standards) with a 6-foot-7 wingspan.
White’s 3-point shooting isn’t great, especially in the corners
Like Smart, White compiles respectable offensive statistics — 14.4 points on 42.6/31.4/86.9 percent shooting splits — but he struggles from 3-point range.
White’s 3-point shooting is a bit of an enigma. He’s an excellent free-throw shooter, and he hits better than 50 percent of his mid-range shots around the free-throw line extended. Above the break, he’s a league-average or better-than-league-average 3-point shooter.
In the corners, however, he’s a disaster — 11-for-49 in total this season.
The Celtics did not deal Grant Williams at the deadline, so perhaps lineups with White and Williams can dominate their oddly specific 3-point zones together.
White took a winding road to the NBA
Coming out of high school, White had no Division I or II interest despite scoring over 1,000 pounds — no high-level school had interest in a player who was just 6-foot-0 and 155 pounds (the baby-faced photo of White in high school featured in this profile by Jeff Eisenberg is worth a look).
White had an offer from an NAIA school, and when that coach landed a job at a Division II school, he maintained his interest in White. White accepted and sprouted nearly five inches that summer. With his newfound height and athleticism — as well as an impressive work ethic honed from his Division I and II slights — White was freshman of the year in his conference. He opted to transfer to Colorado after his junior year and worked his way into the first round of the NBA Draft.
“There was absolutely no way to see this coming,” Colorado assistant Mike Rohn told Eisenberg. “You’re talking about a 6-foot skinny guy that nobody thought could even play college basketball. The growth spurt was a big part of it, but they don’t just hand you these opportunities because you’re a tall guard either.”
White has a prior connection to the Celtics
Team USA’s 2019 FIBA World Cup team — which struggled enormously and came in 7th — was full of Celtics connections, and those connections have only grown over the last few years. At the time, the team featured four Celtics — Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Kemba Walker. Now three of those players remain on the Celtics, while White — who also played on the team — replaces Walker. The Celtics also added Ime Udoka to the mix.
Maybe the 2019 FIBA World Cup squad was simply missing Robert Williams.
The Celtics plan to bring White off the bench for now
Per the Adam Himmelsbach, the Celtics don’t want to break up their starting lineup, and it’s hard to blame them — the double-big group is now outscoring opponents by a laughable 29.5 points per 100 possessions. Even on a generous contract, White wasn’t likely to break into that group this season.
Still, the Celtics might not hang onto Horford past this year, especially after trading for Daniel Theis. As they prep for the future, the Celtics can get a look at lineups such as Smart, Brown, Tatum, Robert Williams, and White. Few defensive holes, if any, exist in that grouping.
Josh Richardson improved his 3-point shooting thanks in part to spacing provided by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. If White improves his 3-point shooting — and his 86.9 percent free-throw shooting suggests he could — the Celtics might be onto something.