- Second-year guard Derrick White had a breakout season for the San Antonio Spurs and is carrying them in the playoffs.
- White was another hidden gem the Spurs unearthed, the 29th pick in the draft who spent three years of college playing at a Division II school.
- White scored 36 points with 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals in the Spurs’ Game 3 win over the Denver Nuggets, giving San Antonio an opportunity to take a commanding 3-1 series lead with a Game 4 win.
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Perhaps the best player in the first round playoff series between the San Antonio Spurs and Denver Nuggets is the player with least NBA pedigree.
Spurs guard Derrick White had an unusual path to the NBA. He didn’t receive any scholarship offers out of high school and attended the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs, a Division II school.
Following a growth spurt, White became the best player on the UCCS basketball team. He averaged 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists his junior year and became the school’s all-time leading scorer. He decided to transfer to Colorado, a DI school, for his senior year.
“I was like, I gotta challenge myself, and took a risk and ended up transferring to Colorado,” White recently told ESPN.
The Spurs drafted White with the 29th pick in the 2017 draft and unearthed yet another hidden gem.
White, who took over the Spurs’ starting point guard job this year after presumed starter Dejounte Murray tore his ACL in the preseason, has dominated the playoffs.
White is averaging 23 points on 69% shooting, 33% from three, with 4 rebounds and 3 assists per game in the playoffs. His latest performance was a 36-point, 5-rebound, 5-assist, 3-steal outing on Thursday to help the Spurs beat the Nuggets in Game 3 and take a 2-1 series lead.
White’s game isn’t terribly flashy but he’s patient and persistent. In Game 3, the Spurs seemed to unlock the key to beating the Nuggets defense – attacking the rim. White was relentless on Thursday in getting to the basket.
White is also a stout perimeter defender and has been crucial in making mercurial Nuggets guard Jamal Murray uncomfortable. Murray has gotten untracked for just one quarter through the series so far.
The Spurs have struggled on defense this year and haven’t quite turned things around in the postseason. However, with White on the floor, they’ve had a defensive rating of 107.4, five points better than their average for the playoffs.
In total, with White on the floor in the playoffs, the Spurs have outscored the Nuggets by 23, a healthy margin considering the total margin for the series is just six, in the Spurs favor.
As ESPN’s Zach Lowe has said throughout the series, White is going to introduce himself to a much larger basketball-watching audience.
Also, world, meet Derrick White. He's really good.
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) April 14, 2019
Derrick White very nearly played a perfect basketball game.
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) April 19, 2019
How did the Spurs manage to find White, yet another hit late in the draft, when most teams are taking 50-50 shots? Even Gregg Popovich couldn’t tell you.
“I never even saw him, never even knew he existed in the world,” Popovich told ESPN of scouting White. “Didn’t know he was on the planet.
“I’m busy. I’ve got other stuff to do. I can’t watch this guy. I don’t know who these guys are. I’m at dinner. I’m ordering wine. I’m relaxing.”
Popovich praised Spurs GM R.C. Buford for finding White.
“I just have a chip on my shoulder,” White told reporters after the game. “This is the way I would play since I was young. I am just trying to get out there and compete and have fun.”
The Spurs have the chance to take a commanding 3-1 series lead with a win in Game 4 in San Antonio on Saturday.
Much has been made about the Spurs’ transition from the Big Three era and their trade of Kawhi Leonard. They’ve played a different brand of basketball this season – not always to great success – but optimists cited DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge’s one-on-one scoring abilities as a reason the Spurs could succeed in the playoffs.
If history has taught us anything about the Spurs, however, it’s that it ends up being an unlikely role player, with an unusual basketball background who makes all the difference. This year, it’s White leading the charge.
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