Proof of depth within an NBA roster reveals itself when a team is down a man or two.
Players from the Boston Celtics have been dropping like flies, with Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Malcolm Brogdon currently sidelined and Robert Williams III in and out of the lineup. Through it all, they’ve been able to hold onto the best record into the NBA and can do so through the All-Star break.
Part of that comes with having a great foundation in place, with star Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, and Grant Williams being among those whose familiarity with the Celtics have brought a sense of stability through adversity. And then of course, there’s Derrick White.
White has stepped into a larger role with Smart and then Brown sitting out due to a right ankle sprain and a facial fracture respectively, filling up the stat sheet and making big plays on the way to helping Boston win six of its last seven games. The scoring, defense, and overall confidence the 28-year old provides have helped the Celtics through this particularly tough stretch of games, with the latest being a 119-109 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
In the win, White led Boston with 23 points and a game-high 10 assists, helping close out the Grizzlies with timely baskets and assists during the crucial stretches of the game. As a team, the Celtics had quite the shooting night, making 41.2 percent of their 3-point attempts off great ball movement. In fact, eight of the nine players that suited up finished in double-figures, a feat not often seen.
A year into his stint with Boston, White has already taken on a multitude of roles depending on what former head coach Ime Udoka and now Joe Mazzulla needed from him. Whether it be joining the starting lineup or providing energy from the bench, the Colorado native has had no problems adjusting to whatever circumstances he is placed in, regardless if this is beyond his or the team’s control. White’s time with the San Antonio Spurs gave him an immersion in a team oriented in ball movement and always being ready and so the move to the Celtics wasn’t a total 180 from anything he had previously done.
This flexibility is a great asset to have in Boston, given the many mouths to feed and an injury history that complicates circumstances. Blocks aren’t what you’d expect from guards, but White has a penchant from swatting shots despite being listed at 6 ‘4″. That kind of rim protection is always welcome and when coupled with solid perimeter defense can help assuage the absences of Brown, Smart, and at times even Williams III.
The All-Star break will allow some of the injured Celtics time to get back before the second half of the NBA season kicks off, but it should also give Mazualla and the rest of Boston’s coaching staff some time to reassess their view on White. Of course, they have a better perspective on him given the time spent in the team facility and the preparation the one-time member of the US Men’s Basketball Team puts in. But then, with the situation White was thrust in, he has definitely earned an expansion to his role.
At the end of the day, though, the Celtics won’t tweak anything that isn’t necessarily broken. They are, after all, fresh off an NBA Finals appearance and look to be on pace to return to the Finals even with their current injury woes. A compromise may be that Boston continues to figure out more ways to deploy White, with the hope that a maximized opportunity could be a win-win situation for both parties.
The Boston Celtics may seem short-handed on paper, but Derrick White has stepped in as of late to fill in the holes and keep the ship afloat. White’s role will diminish once the Celtics return to full strength, but is Boston approaching the point where more from White could mean greater things for the Celtics.