In San Antonio, iron is sharpening iron. It might not be coming
in the usual form of an unprecedented playoff streak or
championship gold, but it is instead manifesting itself through the
development of its highly-touted young talent, as the Spurs
transition from the old era to a new one.
Spearheading the evolution is a crop of late first-round draft
picks from the past five years, all learning from the guiding hand
of the legendary Gregg Popovich. One of those first-rounders is
Derrick White, who had taken a significant jump in team
responsibility before suffering a season-ending ankle injury on
April 26 in Washington, D.C.
"I'm just staying with them. I told 'em when I got hurt that I
was with 'em 'til the end,” White told BasketballNews.com in a
phone interview. “We've still got a lot of talent on our roster, so
I'm excited for these last couple games and hopefully, we finish
strong and playing the right way for the play-in."
The Spurs are currently the 10th seed in the Western Conference
at 31-34 with seven games left in the season and the New Orleans
Pelicans and Sacramento Kings on their heels.
Prior to another untimely setback, White posted career-high
averages in points (15.4), field goal attempts (12.6) and minutes
(29.6) over his 36 games of action. Alongside Dejounte Murray,
Lonnie Walker IV and Keldon Johnson, White is a part of a core with
the onus of keeping up with an ever-progressing sport, yet
upholding the tradition of a first-class franchise with a stellar
"I wouldn't say [there’s] pressure. You just want to go out
there and compete,” White said. “You're aware of the history and
all that, but just going out there, competing, playing the game you
love. San Antonio fans are great, so you want to do well for
them... I mean, basketball as a whole is changing, so you kinda
have to change with the times, and we're no different. So it's just
exciting that this is the way that basketball is going. It's been
entertaining and it's fun to play.
“I'm just blessed to be a part of this organization. You kinda
see the day-to-day, what goes into it. Just their great history,
going back from '99 to where we are now. So I'm thankful to be a
part of this organization and learning from Coach Pop, probably the
greatest coach of all-time. So, it's been great.”
Murray and White have a unique perspective that the others do
not. They were taken under the sure-to-be Hall-of-Fame wings of
Manu Ginoboli and Tony Parker, getting a firsthand look at the
standard-bearers of professionalism and what it meant to be a
“It was cool to be a part of that team and see them and just be
around them and all they've done for San Antonio," White said. "And
then now we've kinda got a lot of young guys and we're all trying
to make a name for ourselves, so it's been a cool transition.”
White, Murray and Johnson were all selected in the same exact
draft position: No. 29 overall.
“We're all, like, the ‘29 Boys,’” White said with a laugh.
Murray was the first to receive a contract extension. White said
that once his backcourt partner signed his contract extension,
Murray told him, “You’re next.”
Sure enough, White inked a four-year, $73 million extension with
the Spurs in December.
That’s back-to-back late first-round picks who earned deals past
their rookie-scales, and their chemistry together is a big reason
why. This season, according to NBA.com, the Spurs have scored 114.2
points per 100 possessions with White and Murray on the floor
together, just behind White and DeMar DeRozan as the Spurs’ top
offensive duo (min. 650 minutes).
In the 266 minutes without either Murray or White on the floor
(in games they’ve played), San Antonio has a net rating of negative-25.7, per
PBP Stats. Needless to say, they’re kind of important to the team’s
success, which is why White feels so grateful to be considered a
cornerstone with Murray.
“He's special. He's able to do a lot of different things on the
court and he's gotten better each and every year that he's played,”
White said of Murray. “That hard work and just wanting to be great.
We just get along well off the court, and it makes it easy on the
Walker and Johnson have been added to the mix over the last
three seasons, and are following a similar pattern. White sees that
Walker is “uber-talented and uber-athletic,” while observing that
Johnson “plays his tail off every two seconds.” The drive to
improve and be great makes each of these four push one another in
order to become the best they can.
There’s also another aspect of White’s approach that's
undergoing maturation: vocalizing and teaching what he's soaked in
from those before him.
White appreciated how productive Ginobili was at 40 years old.
When he retired and Parker exited to the Charlotte Hornets,
LaMarcus Aldridge played a pivotal role in helping White’s
development and keeping his head up during his second season.
Similarly, then and now, he says that DeRozan will answer any
question that gets asked.
“All the vets that we've had here have been amazing. That's
kinda the thing, is there's always great people around,” White
The way leadership works is that you instill values into the
people you’re in charge of, so that when they grow older and wiser,
they can impart the wisdom onto the next generation. White learned
the proper lessons; being a fourth-year pro, it’s his turn to move
up the ladder.
“The front office and Pop have been on me [about] trying to be
more of a leader,” White said. “It's something that I'm continuing
to develop in. The more confidence you have, the more you're doing
the right things, the more you can hold other people accountable.
So it's a constant thing that I'm developing, and hopefully I just
keep getting better and better at it."
White, an avowed introvert, admits it is an adjustment: "I'm
pretty quiet at the start. But once I get to know people, I start
talking more. (laughs)"
As White tries to blossom into a more vocal figure, his skill
set can do the talking for now. Defensively, he is a thorn in
everybody’s side, sticking to his assignments, closing out hard on
shooters and standing pat when the opposition tries to drive on
Get this: Among those playing at least 25 minutes and defending
a minimum of three field goal attempts at the rim per game, there
are only 14 NBA players holding opponents under 55% on those tries.
White is a part of that group, and all but Miles Bridges and
White are big men.
It’s not every day you see a 6-foot-4 guard averaging more
rejections (1.0) than steals (0.7), either.
“I always tell people I'm a shot-blocker,” White quipped. “I
don't know. I'm just trying to get a stop. It's something that I've
always kind of done is just be able to block shots. I just kinda
have a knack for it, and I'm just trying to do whatever it takes to
get some stops and get us the ball back.
“[Strategically, my approach] depends on the matchup. There's a
lot of talented guards and wing players that I've been guarding.
Try to limit their touches, try to push them out of their spot.
There's so many talented people in the league that they're gonna
get their points. Just try to make it difficult for them."
White’s offensive burden has ramped up more this season,
sporting a career-high 22.7% usage rate, in addition to doubling
his three-point attempts to nearly seven per game.
“Coach [Pop] said if I was open or anything just to let it fly
and, hopefully, I can continue to get in the gym, continue to get
shots and reps up, and my percentage and everything will just
continue to grow as my game grows,” White said. “I'm pretty
confident [in my shot]. I mean, it was kinda a rough offseason and
then getting hurt and then COVID and everything, so it was kinda
inconsistent, I feel like, 'cause I just didn't really get a lot of
reps in during the offseason stuff. But just staying in and staying
confident, and I think good things are starting to happen."
Though the traditional statistics don’t jump out and he’s missed
more shots than he’s accustomed to making, White’s advanced numbers
indicate his effect on the game. As specified by Cleaning the
Glass, San Antonio’s offensive rating dips by 4.7 with White off
the floor. He’s also incredibly careful with the basketball, as the
team has a mere 11% turnover rate when he’s on
Last week, Popovich expressed that White’s season is over. It’s
been an unfortunate series of events that will hold back the
26-year-old guard from having the chance to be a part of the Spurs’
chase in the postseason play-in.
It’s times like these when White leans on a support system
that’s been with him from the start. His mother, Colleen; his
father, Richard; his sister, Brianna; his fiancee, Hannah; even his
friends that he hooped with growing up -- all of these people cheer
him on and keep him level-headed. White is grateful that he has
them in his corner, keeping him “boosted” when he needs it.
Besides Russell Westbrook welcoming him to the NBA early his
rookie year ("guarding Russ for the first time was pretty
eye-opening. He didn't take it easy, that's for sure"), one of the
favorite moments of White’s embryonic career is when he burst onto
the scene in the 2019 playoffs vs. his hometown Denver Nuggets, a
series his parents witnessed up close and personal.
“I grew up watching the Nuggets and everything, so to play them
my first playoff round while really playing, it was crazy,” said
White, whose Spurs ultimately fell by four points in Game 7. “It
did a lot for my confidence, but it also showed that I had a lot of
room to grow. So I was happy that I played well, but still wanted
more out of it.
“My mom and my dad went to every game in Denver, and then they
were in San Antonio for Games 3 and 4. So they saw pretty much all
of 'em. They were in San Antonio when I kinda blew up and scored
36, so it was cool to hang out with them after the game and just
get dinner and get food with them after. It was nice to see and it
was good to have them there."
White’s family saw his growth -- physically, mentally and
professionally -- from when he was generously listed at 6-feet tall
in high school, to catching eyes at Division II Colorado-Colorado
Springs and, ultimately, landing at the University of Colorado for
one year and being drafted by the Spurs in 2017.
“It's kinda crazy,” White said of his journey. “UCCS kinda gave
me a preferred walk-on, basically, and I just thought it was cool
'cause it had my major [sports management], but it actually worked
out perfectly. I was able to start right away, and they kinda just
gave me the keys to the whole program from like Game 5 on, so that
did a lot for my development, confidence, everything. Three years
there, and it was amazing. But Marcus Mason, my trainer, was like,
'I think it's time for you to go on.'
“And so, I have an opportunity to transfer to CU, to the PAC-12,
and compete at that level; I couldn't turn it down. So I transfer
in there, redshirting and just working out for a whole year trying
to get better and then, just competing that one year there, trying
to make a name for myself as quickly as I could. So it was all
pretty crazy. But I mean, I think everything happens for a reason,
so it all works out for me."
When asked what he’s most appreciative about regarding his
unusual path to the greatest basketball league in the world, White
pondered before responding.
“I mean, just sticking with it, not giving up,” White said. “I
could've just called it quits [and said], 'It is what it is.' But I
just continued to work. Obviously, growing helped, but I worked
harder than I had before and good things started happening for
If White's path is any indication, it’ll take a lot more than a
few bumps in the road to keep him from achieving whatever he puts
his mind to.