Coming into the season, everyone was hyped to see what Derrick White would bring to the table for the Colorado Buffaloes. We all knew he was a proven scorer, a willing passer, a smart defender, and above all, a great teammate. He was expected to be a well-rounded and consistent player who would make everyone better, but never a star.
Simply being good was never enough for White. He’s emerged as one of the best players in the Pac-12 and certainly the best player on the Buffaloes. White leads the team in points (17.3 per game), assists (4.1), steals (1.2), blocks (1.5), three-pointers made (1.5) and every category relating to free throws. Looking at advanced stats, White leads the team in true shooting (62.5%), effective shooting (57.3%), offensive win shares (3.5) and defensive win shares (1.2). Most significantly, White has posted a ridiculous 26.3 Player Efficiency Rating, which of the Pac-12, is behind only Markelle Fultz, TJ Leaf and Dillon Brooks.
Every projection changed for White at the opening tip-off of the 2016-17 season when he was practically forced into stardom. White made his debut for the Buffs at point guard when he had to slide down from the shooting guard position because Dom Collier was hampered by a foot injury. White immediately impressed in every aspect of the game, including and especially in his facilitation as point guard. When Collier’s injury worsened and Thomas Akyazili fell off a cliff offensively, White became the only playmaker the team had. His passing had been an accessory skill, but soon enough it was irreplaceable.
Against Notre Dame, White showed his skill as a passer and proved that even without a true point guard, the Colorado offense wasn’t dead. In that 89-83 loss, White was everywhere for the Buffs. When White was on the court, he contributed to 71% of Colorado’s made field goals, as he had 20 points and a career-high 9 assists. Games like those gave Tad Boyle the confidence to leave White at point guard when Collier returned from injury at the start of Pac-12 play.
In addition to his incredible passing, White is incredible at cutting through the defense off the dribble (and he’s even better doing it off-the-ball) and either finishing in traffic or drawing the foul. Not since Spencer Dinwiddie has Colorado had a player capable of creating shots in that way, and there’s arguably no skillset more valuable in Tad Boyle’s low-motion offense that often times requires 1-on-1 scoring to open up the court.
Because of White’s driving ability, the perimeter defense is forced to simultaneously play a step off of him and divert more attention to his area of the court. Once the defense plays off of him to (hypothetically) stop the drive, White suddenly has more than enough room to pull up for three whenever he desires. He’s shooting nearly 40% from three, deadly accuracy with his high-volume shooting.
White’s offensive skills play off of each other in a such a way that allows him to maximize every ounce of skill he possesses. His passing accents his driving, and vice versa. His driving makes his shooting better, and vice versa. On top of all that, White has a knack for taking over games when he’s required to.
Twelve times has White scored more than 20 points in a game. Nine of those games were conference matchups and the other three were Colorado’s toughest non-conference games. In almost all of those games, the Buffaloes’ offense was either scuffling as a whole, or it needed someone to step up and be the star, which White is more than comfortable doing. So instead of becoming a complimentary scorer who could dish the ball a bit, as was expected, White has become the offense at times of trouble.
While White has certainly looked the part of invaluable creator of offense, he’s been just as good on defense. Coming into the season, nobody thought White could be anything more than a serviceable player on that end. He spent his entire career defending Community College or Division-II guards and was thrust into a role requiring him to defend Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz. Against elite athletes with limitless ability, White just needed survive, but instead, he’s thrived.
Colorado’s defense this season has been something of an adventure. When they’re not struggling against the three-point shot, they’re struggling to secure the boards, or both. But despite those struggles, the Colorado defense has stepped up for many of their games. In games against Oregon and Xavier, for example, the Buffs were able to secure their biggest wins of the season because of their defense. In those games and in various others, the defense was held together by the adhesive force that is Derrick White.
Against Xavier, White was everywhere on defense. Of the myriad miracles of that game, the most memorable was when White saved the defense and secured the win almost single-handedly — or more accurately, double-handedly. With twenty seconds left in the game, the Buffs inbounded the ball with a three-point lead, but immediately turned it over in the backcourt. Xavier’s Trevor Blueitt grabbed the ball, fought through Bryce Peters and went up for a layup, but he was met in the air by White, who emphatically blocked the layup with both hands. White secured the lose ball and got the ball up-court, effectively saving the upset win.
Plays like that have shown that White, in addition to being an incredible scorer and savvy playmaker, is an elite two-way player. No one expected White to be a good defender, much less Colorado’s best, but here he is locking down the opposition’s best and protecting the rim on a nighty basis.
Derrick White will continue exceeding expectations and will continue to grow as a player. He has two more games at the Coors Events Center and you know he will be working his ass off to get Colorado those victories, even if he has to do everything himself. If you haven’t made it up to the CEC this season, I encourage you to see Derrick White in person. We all need to make the most of his time here because just as quickly as he arrived, he’ll be gone.