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How Derrick White Fits With the Spurs

White should contribute right away on a Finals contender.

Photoshop via Jack Barsch

On Thursday night, Derrick White was selected with the 29th pick of the 2017 NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs. In drafting White in the first round in one of the most loaded draft classes in memory, the Spurs clearly have big plans for him.

White is a 23-year-old combo guard who can contribute immediately on both sides of the ball. His versatility, experience and basketball IQ make him perfect to play meaningful minutes for a contender, especially one built like the Spurs. It’s safe to say Gregg Popovich and the coaching staff will rely on him as a bench contributor, but it’s hard to say exactly how much and in what capacity.

The Spurs are at a crossroads right now as most of their perimeter players are either aging or set to be free agents this summer. Tony Parker, their starting point guard for the past 16 years, is playing like he’s suited up for nearly 1,500 games in his Hall of Fame career. He also recently suffered a torn quad tendon and will be out until midseason, if he comes back at all. If he returns to health, Parker can still be valuable on offense, but he’s so consistently shredded on defense that it makes it hard for San Antonio to keep him on the floor.

Patty Mills, the Spurs’ bench extraordinaire for the past six seasons, would be the one to step in for Parker, but he’s a free agent. Lots of teams are in need of a scoring dynamo like Mills, and considering the Spurs appear to be saving money for a big time free agent (maybe Chris Paul???), it feels like a guarantee that Mills will play elsewhere next year. The scoring punch and offensive stability Mills provides is likely gone, and that’s a significant loss for them.

Considering Parker’s injury and aging, and Mills’s likely departure, the Spurs will have a hole to fill at point guard. Dejounte Murray, last year’s first round pick from Washington, is a promising combo guard, but he’s still raw. Comparing college players to NBA players is apples to oranges, but White looks much more polished and consistent at the moment. I’m not sure how much the Spurs might favor Murray’s one year of NBA experience, but it seems that White should be able to push him for minutes as lead guard. Even if White isn’t the primary backup point guard, he still has versatility elsewhere.

Fortunately for White (and Murray), San Antonio has similar problems at shooting guard. Incumbent starter Danny Green, a knockdown shooter who doubles as an elite perimeter defender, is rumored to be on the trade block. If the Spurs decide to pursue a big-name free agent, they could move him and his $10M salary to free up some money. If he’s gone, the Spurs will have to find someone to fill in those heavy minutes.

The players who would back up or replace Green is looking more dire every day. Manu Ginobili, bless his soul, might retire before the start of next season. If he does return, he’s one year older and one step slower. Jonathon Simmons, a career D-Leaguer the Spurs turned into 3-and-D gold, is also set for a big payday, and it will almost certainly be with another team. Kyle Anderson, the former UCLA point forward nicknamed “Slow-Mo”, is solid on offense but isn’t a great shooter and he can be a liability on defense, especially against teams with smaller and quicker players on the wing.

If the Spurs want to replace Mills and Simmons, and potentially Green and Ginobili, with cheaper in-house options, they could opt to give White (and Murray) significant minutes at one or both guard spots. White isn’t known for his defense, but as Jonathan Tjarks highlighted, he’s probably underrated on that end and the Spurs’ great team defense should help mitigate his weaknesses to some extent. More importantly, White’s diverse offensive skill set allows him to blend into virtually any offensive role. He can be a lethal spot-up shooter in the Spurs’ famous motion offense. He can be a primary or secondary ball handler in a pick-and-roll-heavy offense. He can anything Popovich wants him to be, and that’s the beauty of White playing on the Spurs.

If the Spurs go through the roster tumult many expect them to, White, omnipresent he is, will play a significant role for in San Antonio. He’s too versatile not to.