The Subtle Emergenc​​e of Derrick White


Derrick White has been under the radar since day one. Never asking for the spotlight and rarely receiving it.

As an under-recruited prospect out of Legends High School (CO), White was faced with the harsh reality of playing basketball for NAIA culinary school Johnson & Wales or giving up on his hoops dreams. With just days left for White to make a decision on his future, head coach Jeff Culver finally provided Derrick with the big break he needed.

Culver was in charge of recruiting the six-foot White to attend Johnson and Wales out of high school but found himself with an opportunity to lead a Division II program. Culver accepted his new position at the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs and immediately bolstered the point guard position by adding White to the roster.

Fast forward three years and the scrawny kid from Parker, Colorado had transformed his body to compete at the next level. After working tirelessly around the clock to hone his craft, the two-time Division II All-American committed to play Division I basketball for the University of Colorado – Boulder.

While it was a miracle he’d made it this far, White wasn’t done proving doubters wrong. In his lone season at Colorado, Derrick dominated Pac-12 hoops, boosted his draft stock and shot up NBA big boards.

White’s historic season helped carry a paper-thin Colorado roster to an overachieving 19-15 record. Still, Derrick fell to the 29th overall pick of the 2017 NBA draft and into the laps of the San Antonio Spurs.

He may have been disregarded by 28 other organizations, but White landed in an ideal situation for undervalued prospects. San Antonio’s staff is famous for discovering steals in the draft, and White was exactly the kind of late first-round prospect the Spurs love to polish.

Rookies rarely find floor time in San Antonio their first go-round and White was no exception. The 23-year-old rookie suited up for just 17 NBA games in his first season and frequently shuffled between the Spurs and their G-League affiliate in Cedar Park, Texas.

All things considered, it was about what was expected from White in his first season with San Antonio. Head Coach Gregg Popovich gave the first-year guard love, but rarely let him see the hardwood.

Going into year two, everyone anticipated more minutes for White with Tony Parker out of the picture. But nobody could have foreseen the workload Derrick would assume in 2018-2019.

By now, all Spurs fans probably know of Dejounte Murray’s untimely season-ending ACL injury. Although San Antonio lost their defensive anchor, they found a silver lining in the process.

With only Patty Mills to take up minutes at the one-guard spot, Derrick White would have all the time in the world to develop in the heat of legitimate NBA action. Or so they thought.

In yet another unfortunate turn of events, White went down with a preseason heel injury that forced him to start the year recovering on the sidelines. Skip through his treatment, jump into week three, and White was held scoreless by the Miami Heat in his season debut.

Despite a solid three-game encore to his uninspiring opener, White was relatively quiet for the better part of two months. Through 26 appearances, the crafty combo guard averaged nearly 6-3-4 in just under 22 minutes per game.

Solid numbers for a second-year guard abruptly thrust into an unfamiliar role, but not enough to help the then eighth-place Spurs navigate the wild Western Conference playoff picture. Though White was adequate as a fill-in starter up to this point, no signs hinted at a midseason turnaround for the former Buff.

Then, something miraculous happened. Derrick White seemingly flipped a switch in a tight homecoming loss to the Denver Nuggets and he’s never looked back.

Since that December 28th outing, the dynamic playmaker has silently stuffed the stat sheet for the Spurs. White’s per game resumé over this 19 game span has been the picture of productivity and it reads a little something like this.

15-4-4, one steal, one swat (almost) and shooting splits of 59-45-76.

His per game statistics tell the story of a player coming into his own. However, I believe only a mix of advanced analytics and traditional stats can highlight his rapid growth.

Derrick White has become the Spurs’ fourth-leading scorer and most effective shooter (64.4 EFG%) all while maintaining a stunning 21.5 PER since his breakout performance. Take into account the fact he’s put up the fewest shots per game out of San Antonio’s starting five and you begin to understand the weight of his low volume high-efficiency impact.

The slithery sharpshooter arguably deserves consideration for end of the year honors. Other players have made considerable strides from a year ago, but no one has shown consistent improvement on a nightly basis quite like White has this season.

White will likely get snubbed when it comes time for media members to vote for the Most Improved Player of the Year Award, but this is nothing new for the Colorado product. After all, he was overlooked in high school, overlooked in college and overlooked in the draft.

Derrick wasn’t a household name when he came into the league and he still may be a relative unknown in some corners of the Alamo City. Heck, he wasn’t even San Antonio’s most intriguing young talent coming into the season.

With that said, there’s one consistent detail in his story; Scoff at his talent, and you’ll regret the day you slept on his drive. The Spurs were smart to take a flyer on White, and he’s yet to disappoint.

White sustained a heel injury against the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night and will reportedly miss the first leg of the Rodeo Road Trip. His defensive presence has been missed already two games into the road trip. He may be out of sight for a while, but he won’t be out of mind when he makes his return.


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