At the start of the Celtics’ preseason finale against the Raptors last week, Jaylen Brown saw an opening on the left side and decided to explore it.
Toronto big man Precious Achiuwa was stationed on Boston guard Derrick White, who was standing in the corner. But he viewed Brown as a more substantial threat and moved over to offer help defense before Brown had even arrived, leaving White alone.
Brown made the obvious pass to White in the corner, and the guard calmly drilled a 3-pointer. Less than a minute later, a similar play unfolded, this time with Jayson Tatum as the ball-handler, and Achiuwa ignored White again.
The scouting report was glaring, and Toronto was hardly the first to implement it. But White hit this wide-open offering, too, and drilled two more in the quarter before finishing the game 5 of 6 from beyond the arc.
The Celtics are loaded with offensive weapons, and defenses will be forced to make difficult choices. A logical strategy, based on a portfolio of results, is forcing White to make jump shots.
He made just 30.6 percent of his regular-season attempts after being acquired from the Spurs last February and started the playoffs in a 10-for-46 slump before warming up down the stretch.
“I just feel like it was a little bit of a roller coaster since I got here,” White said, “so just trying to be a little more consistent with everything this year. That’s all I’m focusing on.”
The Celtics are aware that White will get plenty of open looks at the start of this season, and they’ve been preparing. White and assistant coach Ben Sullivan have conducted lengthy shooting workouts after almost every practice since the start of training camp.
Sullivan broke into the NBA as a video intern with the Spurs in 2012 and worked with renowned shooting guru Chip Engelland there. He went on to be an assistant with the Hawks and Bucks and developed his own reputation as a shot doctor. He dismissed that classification in a recent interview but is eager to help White unlock another facet of the Celtics offense.
“Having been here for a half a year and going through that deep run and now coming back with the guys, you can see he’s starting to realize, ‘This is my moment, this is my time when I need to be aggressive or when to create for somebody else,’ ” Sullivan said. “And he’s such a pure player and plays in such a purist’s way, so I’m trying to remind him, ‘Hey, man, you’ve got to shoot some of these shots.’ ”
Sullivan said White’s mechanics do not need significant alteration. They are making sure he is using his legs, staying balanced, and putting a good arc on shots.
But the biggest focus is getting White to simply fire away with confidence. He is athletic and has good form when he steps into an attempt with purpose, but there tend to be moments of hesitation that disrupt his rhythm and make him overthink.
“Everyone can see when he pops his feet and gets into it, boom,” said Sullivan, making a fist for emphasis. “When he kind of measures it a little, there’s a difference.
“Did he step into it on balance, ready to shoot it, and it looked like his normal shot? It wasn’t like, ‘Should I shoot this? Should I not shoot this?’ That’s step one. Every time he shoots, he’s into it in his way, like, ‘This is my shot. I’m taking it.’ ”
With center Robert Williams out after knee surgery, White started all four preseason games as well as Tuesday’s season-opening win over the 76ers, and he appears primed to stay in that spot until Williams returns in a month or two.
Regardless, White usually will be on the floor with players who will draw the majority of attention from defenses. He’ll almost always be positioned for good opportunities, and he insists he will be ready for them.
“When I get a look, just let it fly,” White said. “If I’m open, don’t think about it. I just have to go do it. But I feel a lot more comfortable and know where I’m supposed to be on the court.”