Examining Derrick White’s Early-Season Struggles

After playing just 139 minutes in his rookie season, Derick White took on a much larger role in his second year. With Dejounte Murray out for the season with a torn ACL and Tony Parker leaving in free agency, the Spurs needed White to step up — and he did just that.

In 67 games last season, 55 as the team’s starting point guard, White averaged 9.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.0 steal in 25.8 minutes per game. While White’s numbers didn’t turn too many heads outside of San Antonio, his play certainly helped the Spurs make the playoffs.

In games that White played last season, San Antonio went an impressive 41-26. On the other hand, the Spurs went 7-8 in his absence, losing by an average of 16.8 points. His play on both ends of the floor helped steady the team after an 11-14 start. White proved to be a solid playmaker and creator for himself and others, and was also strong on defense.

Among all NBA point guards last season, White ranked 15th in real plus-minus — and fifth in defensive real plus-minus. He not only showed that he was a good starting point guard but he was also one of the team’s best players. He ranked second on the team in net rating at 4.8 — well ahead of LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan.

Derrick White, the Encore

This season, Derrick White hasn’t been nearly as effective. His stats look similar — 10.0 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 0.5 steals in 24.2 minutes per game — but his advanced stats tell a different story.

On both sides of the court, White has experienced notable slippage. He currently ranks 56th in offensive real plus-minus among point guards. On defense it’s even worse, as he’s the 60th ranked point guard. His -6.4 net rating is substantially lower than the number he posted last season.

A possible culprit for his early season struggles is the return of Murray. White began the season in a bench role behind Murray. As the team struggled during an losing streak, head coach Gregg Popovich decided to swap their roles.

In theory, White’s shooting made him a better fit in the starting lineup. In reality, flipping White and Murray hasn’t done much good. The new starting lineup (White, DeRozan, Aldridge, Bryn Forbes and Rudy Gay) has a net rating of -9.3 compared to the -9.7 of the original starting unit (Murray, DeRozan, Aldridge, Forbes and Trey Lyles).

Murray and White have split minutes at point guard, as opposed to playing side by side. This has limited the amount of minutes that either could play. As a result of Murray’s return, the Spurs have relied on White less. He’s played more than 30 minutes just twice this season after doing so 17 times last season.

Is He on a Minutes Restriction?

While Murray has openly been on a minutes restriction for much of the year, it’s possible that Pop has been monitoring Derrick White’s minutes too. He spent part of the summer playing with Team USA instead of spending it recovering from his first full NBA regular season and postseason.

Playing during the summer can aide a player’s development, however, White spent much of last season nursing foot injuries. He missed the first nine games of the regular season with a plantar fascia tear in his left foot. Later in the season, he developed plantar fasciitis on the heel of his right foot.

Such injuries can take weeks or months to fully heal. It’s possible that there could be lingering effects from those injuries, or even a bit of fatigue. If Pop knows White isn’t 100%, it could make sense that the coaching staff plans to slowly ramp up White’s minutes similar to the plan Murray has been on.

Why is Derrick White Struggling?

The effort is there on the defensive end for Derrick White — he ranks second among all guards with 8.4 shot contests per game – but the results haven’t. While playing with non-defenders like Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli and DeRozan doesn’t help, White surely deserves some of the blame as well. His 112.1 defensive rating is down from the 107.1 rating he had a year ago and that can’t all be blamed on his teammates.

Offensively, White has been almost equally unimpactful. Last season, he was second best playmaker on the team, behind only DeRozan. This season, White has seen his assist rate has drop from 21.0% to 16.5%.

While not an explosive athlete like Lonnie Walker IV, White is a solid one — just ask Paul Millsap. His leaping ability and craft helped him shoot 65.5% within three feet of the rim last season. That number has dipped to just 53.5% this season. Not only is that well below league average but it’s last on the team among players in the regular rotation.

White simply doesn’t appear to be moving as well as he did during his breakout season. He was never going to be confused with prime Tony Parker but he found ways to get into the paint. That seems to be happening less now.

Whether a result of lingering injury, fatigue or his altered role, White hasn’t lived up to last season’s play. He’ll need to regain his form — and fast — if the Spurs have any shot of making the playoffs this season.