SAN ANTONIO — It took a while for me to come around on Derrick White.
His evolving game and rapid development have been astounding. But I was reluctant to anoint him as a superstar in the making.
However, after spending the past couple of weeks scrutinizing the second-year rising star, watching him closely at both ends of the court, I have come to two conclusions:
White is the San Antonio Spurs’ second most valuable player.
He deserves serious consideration for one of the NBA’s all-defensive teams.
No offense to DeMar DeRozan, who still should be regarded as the Spurs’ second-best player, but White has passed him in value.
As long as DeRozan is the team’s best scorer and passer, he’s still up there right behind LaMarcus Aldridge in terms of overall quality. Remember DeRozan was in the discussion for an All-Star nod several weeks ago. It would not have been farfetched either.
But his January-February fade since producing an astounding triple double in the Kawhi Leonard return game allowed White to pass him on the value scale.
Chalk the switch up to defense.
It’s easy to notice White’s defense on the perimeter. While not yet a shutdown defender, he does make his man work awfully hard to get a shot.
White put on a veritable clinic recently at Atlanta, throttling hot Hawks rookie Trae Young into an 8-of-24 shooting performance. White added an unheard-of six blocks that game to go along with nine assists and 18 points. It was close to a perfect game.
To put that effort in perspective, consider the following:
White, who is 6-4, has played in 69 career games.
Leonard, who might be the best overall defensive player in the NBA, is 6-7 and has played in 455 career games. Leonard has three inches and 386 games on White. Leonard’s single game high for blocks? Also six.
Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest player in NBA history. He’s 6-6. He played in 1,072 games in his distinguished career. His career high for blocks is six, too.
LeBron James, the greatest player of his generation, has played in 1,191 games. His single-game high for blocks is five.
Leave it to Gregg Popovich to put White’s surge in perspective: "He should refuse to play another game until we change this contract – he has been spectacular.”
White is earning $1.67 million this year, meaning he will make about one-tenth of what the team paid Pau Gasol.
Call White’s deal a bargain, or the deal of the century, or whatever you like.
I’m not ready to wish away the rest of the current season because I still think the Spurs are capable of doing some damage in the playoffs.
But the promise of next year is even more scintillating when injured Dejounte Murray, an All-Defense honoree last year, and White reunite to form the NBA’s top defensive backcourt.
Now that’s truly exciting.