Sports

Derrick White’s All-Star bid is about to become interesting

After the Boston Celtics acquired Jrue Holiday in an early October trade with the Portland Trail Blazers, the five-time All-Defensive Team guard was billed as the solution to Boston’s need for a tempo-setting orchestrator. In theory, he was also the fourth All-Star in the Eastern Conference’s premier lineup.

However, as All-Star voting tipped off in earnest last week, Derrick White’s name was the one dripping with intrigue. Holiday has lived up to his reputation, but his younger backcourt co-star has stolen the acclaim. NBA All-Star rules allow for the entry of two backcourt starters, another pair of backcourt reserves and two wild cards of any position per conference. That leaves enough opportunity for a maximum of six guards which means that in a conference populated by Tyrese Haliburton, Tyrese Maxey, Jalen Brunson, Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell and Trae Young, White’s insurgent All-Star candidacy has sprouted wings.

White’s All-Star campaign is about to be the NBA analog to the toxic Brock Purdy’s MVP discourse before he tanked it in Week 17. It’s not to say that either White or Purdy wouldn’t be putting up these numbers if they were the focal point of an offense, but the impact wouldn’t be as dramatic without their respective first-rate principals. In San Fran, the multipurpose Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, a tyrannical defense and George Kittle make Purdy’s job easier. For White, it’s Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kristaps Porzingis as the focal point.

The game manager trope doesn’t get thrown around as often in the NBA in reference to point guards, but, if it did, Gilbert Arenas would be ranting about White being the preeminent game manager in basketball today for one of the NBA’s most prominent franchises, and then belittle him for not being a game changer.

White’s been leveling up to this for years and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The former Division II All-American spent one season at Colorado before being drafted into Professor Popovich’s Basketball Finishing School. Every year, White surpassed low expectations. Now with sky-high championship-or-bust forecasts weighing on Boston, White, has stepped up and answered the call.

White’s hustle and penchant for making unorthodox plays for a guard has never been more apparent than his tip-in as time expired to force a Game 7 between the Boston Celtics and Miami in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals. This fall, White showed up to camp with a shaved head and arrived cooking on his Heisenberg steez as an automatic bucket in an offense predicated on creating more open triples for shooters than any team in the league.

At the current pace, White is threatening the exclusive 50-40-90 club, if it weren’t for a pesky few missed free throws, and his counting stats are modest career-highs in points and assists. That, along with his assembly line efficiency, are only his second-strongest selling points. And yet, while he doesn’t possess any of the game-changing offensive tools of those sexier options, he does have one trump card.

In an age where defense has been legislated out of the game, it’s White who has been the sharpest two-way standout, amid a field of perimeter stars who get hunted on the defensive end.

White is the rare 6-foot-4 or under eraser who deletes shots in the paint as well as mirroring perimeter players 25 feet away from the bucket. For the second consecutive year, White leads all guards in blocks. A year after leading all guards in contested 2-point shots, he’s once again among the top three and opposing players shoot 2.6 percentage points worse against White than their usual outcome, a top-10 rate for guards in the league. White’s defensive reliability is even more impressive when you consider his advanced offensive load or the defensive assignments he’s tasked with.

Given that Maxey, Haliburton, Lillard and Brunson are practically shoo-ins, the decision will ultimately revolve around the trio of Young, Mitchell and White. Mitchell could be the odd man out because he doesn’t create for teammates on Young’s level, and offers the same matador defense.

Between November 25th and Christmas Day, Young has been cosmically good on the offensive end. He knocked down 42 percent of his attempts, most of them he created off the dribble, led the league in triples, dished more assists than anyone, and also committed more turnovers. The Hawks lost 9 of 14 in that stretch. By comparison, White possesses the fourth highest usage rate on a team that reached the Finals the year before he arrived. However, coaches don’t have the same reverence for Young as fans or players do, and his reputation as a coach killer doesn’t help those odds either.

And before you turn your nose up at White, remember that coaches pick the reserves. Hawks fans are going to squawk the league’s ears off if Young gets passed over for a player that offers the clearest contrast to his nightly offensive fireworks, but a few days after getting snubbed last year, he claimed Nate McMillan’s job. However, given the rate coaches are shrieking about defense being legislated out of the game, rewarding the ultimate coach’s player over a pair of offensive prima donnas seems like the sort of statement coaches would make.

The recent precedence of coaches valuing a two-way role player who plunges the toilets covering for teammates’ defensive miscues, mops the floors with opposing ballhandlers and does reliable offensive administrative work for the league’s championship frontrunner a primary offensive option was Draymond Green being selected by the coaches over Paul George two years ago.

Effort is important, even in All-Star exhibitions. If they’re looking for a competitive All-Star Game and a Draymond variant to spice things up after last season’s bland run and shoot scrimmage, White should get the nod.

Follow DJ Dunson on X: @cerebralsportex




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