The Runner Sports

Spurs Draft Profile: Who Is Derrick White?

The town of Parker, Colorado is a sprawling, remote area southeast of Denver. The neighborhoods are more like collections of individual properties; sometimes, the next house is a five to ten minute drive down an unpaved dirt road. The air is fresh, and the Rocky Mountains lie to the west, and on a perfect day, you can see them, in their entirety, imposing and regal but still many miles away. If the Rocky Mountains were a kid’s dream of playing in the NBA, Parker’s vantage point delineates the apparent unattainability of it, as the mountains lie on the distant horizon, visible, and yet just out of reach.

Sometimes it feels like the San Antonio Spurs take a chance on players based purely on the quality of their backstory. Danny Green and Jonathon Simmons can attest to that. In a world of advanced metrics and player efficiency rating, personality and strength of character are all too often overlooked in the scouting process. That’s why sometimes it seems like San Antonio has a separate room of statisticians calculating underdog potential and quantifying self-motivation of prospects as they build out their roster each year.

Derrick White was barely six feet tall coming out of Legend High School in Parker, Colorado. He had big, floppy hair and skinny arms, and could barely jump high enough to grab an errant rebound. Neglected as a recruit by all four-year institutions (only one of three prospects to find themselves at the 2017 NBA Combine after emerging from high school unsigned), he had no D1 scholarship offers to play college ball when he graduated from Legend.

Instead of staying in Parker to stare longingly out at the Rockies for the rest of his life, White hit the gym and worked himself into a roster spot at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. He is now the first UCCS athlete ever drafted by a top professional sports league in the United States.

He spent three years at UCCS before finally transferring to the University of Colorado for his senior season, where he quickly made a name for himself with a breakout season for the Buffaloes.

By now, he was 6’5″ and could pull up from three and throw down transition dunks. White became the Buffs’ go-to guy last season, averaging 18.3 ppg, 4.3 assists and 4.1 rebounds on 40% 3-pt and 81% free throw shooting. He was named to the All-Defensive Team, and first-team All-Pac 12, and he will use some of his NBA contract money to pay off student debt from his freshman year at UCCS. The Spurs just can’t help themselves.

The post-draft breakdown experts talked at length about how Dennis Smith is a perfect for Dallas. They discussed how ridiculous it was that Malik Monk was still on the board at 11, and they commiserated about how blatantly unfair it is that Jordan Bell is now a Golden State Warrior. And while the bloviating bordered upon incessant, the story of Derrick White slipped mostly under the radar.

White is an excellent shooter and a steady pick-and-roll operator, including a solid spot-up game when the play moves underneath the pick. Excellent mid-range elevation makes up for some of his lack of lateral quickness, and, perhaps most importantly, he plays like he’s having fun. Although not a bona fide athletic specimen, he is an especially long defender at his position, with a 6’8″ wingspan and a self-professed focus on getting ‘bigger and stronger’ heading into summer league.

He does lack a certain amount of mobility and speed associated with the guard position in today’s NBA. His decision-making is a question mark at this point too… his splits show a turnover-to-assist ratio of 1.8-1. That’s not bad, but it’s probably not going to cut it against Boston’s defense, for example. How his game translates to the faster pace at the professional level remains to be seen. One of the major concerns with White is the fact that he was the oldest player drafted in the first round; at 22, his ceiling is most definitely a question among the younger adjacent first-rounders. At his age, there is always a chance he runs into the Buddy Hield issue of finite development.

The point guard situation in San Antonio is particularly interesting this summer. Patty Mills may or may not be coming back. Tony Parker is out until at least January. Dejounte Murray is in San Diego working out with Kawhi Leonard this summer. Beyond that, we really have no idea how everything will fall into place come next season. Assuming Patty Mills returns, it could be that Murray starts and White backs him up, with Mills continuing to lead the second unit. Until Parker is healthy, White could see some run at the point in the same way young Tony Parker ceded end-of-game minutes to Speedy Claxton in the early 2000s.

Of course, the Spurs could still push all their chips to the center and try to outbid the league for Chris Paul; but at this point, drafting a pick-and-roll point guard in the first round doesn’t bode well for that theory.

Last season, young guys like Ian Clark and Pat McCaw were able to gain valuable experience playing valuable minutes for a championship Warriors team. Being drafted by a good organization tends to do wonders for your confidence and experience as a young player. Derrick White could very well be the next young guy to know what that feels like.

Long ago, the Spurs found Manu Ginobili in the second round with pick 57. They found Tony Parker at 28, and more recently, Kawhi Leonard at 15. The 29th pick is essentially a lottery pick when you have the best head coach/front office tandem in basketball.

Go get ’em, Derrick.

Justin Heller
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Justin Heller

NBA Spurs Lead Writer at The Runner Sports
NBA guy. Manu apologist. Tim Duncan clergyman. Van Exel admirer. Embiid fan club. Players Tribune articles can never be bad. The three most important letters in the NBA are g-i-f.
Grew up all over, ended up in San Antonio, where I live currently. Come enjoy the churros with me, Chuck.
Justin Heller
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