When we make a preseason poll at CelticsBloganswering the questionWho or what is the biggest X factor for the Celtics this season?”, I could not believe that I was the only person who chose Derrick White:
This one could go in a lot of different directions, but I’ll say Derrick White. When he’s playing to his potential, the Celtics are nearly unbeatable. He had streaks last year, but he showed his ability and versatility in the stages. This year, his shooting seems more fluid and he has a chance to emerge as a more consistent player. He’s going to get open 3s over and over again, and he has to be able to knock them down regularly. I hope he has a good season and lives up to expectations.
Maybe it was because I went first, and everyone else wanted to avoid the obvious choice, but to me, it’s a no-brainer.
When White plays well, the Celtics are almost unbeatable. When mixed in with the game and passive on the pitch, they lose much of their luster.
In Celtics victories, White is averaging 11.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists, shooting 49.7% from the ground and 45.1% from 3-point range. : A standout player on a standout team.
In losses, those numbers drop considerably to 5.6 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists, on… (you might want to skip to the next paragraph) 25.4 percent shooting from the field and 17. 6 percent on shots from distance. OK that’s fine. Not necessarily ideal.
Perhaps the most telling statistic is that, in wins, White attempts 8.2 shots per night. In losses? 5.9.
There’s enough sample size there to say clearly and definitively that White’s production is often a barometer of how the Celtics play as a whole. To be clear, even when he’s not scoring at a high level, he still contributes to wins with well-timed quick plays and general “glue” tendencies.
However, when he’s aggressive and constantly knocking down open shots, defenses have almost no chance to stop the Celtics. They work so hard worrying about Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown that all it takes is a third scorer to punish them over and over again.
Often that’s Marcus Smart or Malcolm Brogdon, and sometimes it’s Al Horford or Grant Williams. White can also fill the role, but he hasn’t been doing it regularly lately.
In November, when the Celtics finished 14-2, White averaged 11.8 points on 50.4 shooting and 45.7 percent from 3. In December, when they slumped to a 6-6 record, White is amassing 7.8 points a night and hitting just 34. 1 percent of his shots and 23.3 percent of his 3-pointers.
Obviously, part of that is circumstantial. When the Celtics are rolling as a unit, White gets a higher percentage of looks and is more likely to make them. But, the opposite is also true. When he’s shooting, they’re much more likely to do the same.
Another notable part of the equation is that he is averaging 10.5 points on 45.7 percent shooting and 40.5 percent three-point shooting in 27 games as a starter. In seven games off the bench, his numbers aren’t so rosy.
The last two games have been a big step in the right direction. White finished with 18 points, 5 boards, 3 assists and 2 blocks in a win over the Timberwolves on Friday and had 12 points and 5 assists in a win over the Bucks on Sunday. He shot a combined 12-for-19 and had a game-high plus-23 against Minnesota and a game-high plus-20 against Milwaukee.
White was instrumental in helping the Celtics move away from two strong teams. The haircut may or may not be entirely responsible for giving him back his powers, but either way, the Celtics will accept it.
His teammates know how much they need him and how much more dangerous they are when he has his mojo. Tatum said he told Right White before the Timberwolves game that he was looking to attack.
“D-White is the best teammate and someone everyone would love to play with,” Tatum said. “Just letting him know we need him, I love playing with him and we need him to be aggressive.”