On Derrick White and the Fuel for Unprecedented Journey to NBA's Best Role Player

Jun 17, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics guard Derrick White (9) reacts after a three point basket against the Dallas Mavericks during the first quarter in game five of the 2024 NBA Finals at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 17, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics guard Derrick White (9) reacts after a three point basket against the Dallas Mavericks during the first quarter in game five of the 2024 NBA Finals at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports / Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
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Derrick White started his collegiate career at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. He is the school's only player to make it to the NBA. When he arrived, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich sensed his uncertainty.

After a Celtics win in San Antonio on New Year's Eve, White shared about his time playing for the Hall of Fame head coach, "I used to be in the meal room, and he'd walk in and just say, 'You belong,' and walk out."

"To watch him develop through the years here, starting with the G League and playing with us and then starting for us and then taking more steps in Boston, has just been a thrill to watch," said Popovich. "He's one of the greatest guys ever, and his confidence has just exploded."

Now, White no longer needs the reminder that he belongs. He hasn't just acclimated to playing basketball at the highest level; he's blossomed into the best role player in the NBA.

There is a case for others, most notably Aaron Gordon. But only one of them got snubbed from this year's All-Star Game, especially after the Eastern Conference needed two injury fill-ins.

White averaged 15.2 points and 4.2 rebounds this year, personal bests, swiped a steal per game, matching his most in a season, and dished out 5.2 assists. He also knocked down 39.6% of the 6.8 threes he hoisted.

The seventh-year guard also earned his second straight All-Defensive Second Team selection. He ranked in the 91st percentile in estimated defensive plus-minus, per dunksandthrees.com.

He also finished the regular season 15th in defensive win shares, and his 1.2 blocks per contest were the second most by a guard, behind only six-foot-seven Scottie Barnes, who swatted 1.5 shots per tilt.

In the playoffs, the Parker, Colorado native produced 16.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.2 blocks, and nearly a steal per game. He not only rewarded Joe Mazzulla's trust in him to run the point for the team with the most talented top six, but White also repeatedly represented a reliable kick-out option for Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and any other Celtics who collapsed the defense. He buried 40.4% of the 8.5 shots he took from beyond the arc this postseason.

Boston Celtics guard Derrick White shoots a three in Game 5 of the 2024 NBA Finals.
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

In training for his career year, capped with a championship, White bulked up. He worked with his trainer, Marcus Mason, to add upper-body strength that helped him hold up against bigger perimeter players and stonewall centers in the low post.

Adding muscle was necessary for his evolution. The same goes for a low point that ultimately made him more confident and comfortable.

"That year happened, and I felt like everybody kind of turned on me, which made me feel kind of comfortable in a weird way," said White in an interview with NBC Sports Boston's Brian Scalabrine and Eddie House while discussing his growth since losing in the 2022 NBA Finals.

"Nobody believed I could be here. And so, just stay in the gym, grind, and then that next year, just gaining confidence, do what I do, and this year, man, sky's the limit."

Now, he's an NBA champion who might add a gold medal this summer that would pair nicely with the ring he just earned. He'll celebrate his 30th birthday in less than two weeks, and accounting for incentives, he's poised to sign a four-year, $127 million extension this offseason.

"I can't talk about much with things that we're not allowed to discuss until Jul. 1, but Derrick has had an amazing year," voiced Celtics' president of basketball operations, Brad Stevens, in April. "Derrick is a huge, huge part of our team, and we want him around for as long as we can keep him."

The All-Star-caliber guard, whose father, Richard White, is from Boston, has become one of the city's most beloved citizens. He's starred in Sam Adams commercials and drew a roar from the TD Garden faithful when he said at the podium after the Celtics' championship-clinching 106-88 victory that he'd lose all of his teeth for a championship.

Along with his play and the bond he's forged with Boston, he brings another element that makes him incredibly valuable. Suiting up for a franchise with championship standards in a sports-crazed region, White is able to balance the work necessary to produce a career year with a happy-go-lucky approach that broadcasted he was enjoying the ride as it happened.

At the Auerbach Center, he would often wear his practice jersey around his neck like a cape, was a regular in trick-shot competitions with members of the team's coaching staff, and added levity to the mission for Banner 18.

From the change in his physique to building the confidence necessary to go from a sheepish rookie to understanding "the sky's the limit" for him, White's transformation has made him a linchpin to a championship team that could usher in a dynasty.

Further Reading

Jayson Tatum, an NBA Champion Entering Peak of His Powers

Jaylen Brown Caps Career Year with NBA Finals MVP: 'Can't Even Put it into Words'

Tatum and Brown Reach NBA Summit, Lead Celtics to Banner 18

Dependable Xavier Tillman Discusses Learning to 'Be a Star in Your Own Role'

Celtics Detail Keys to Perhaps Their Best Quarter This Postseason

Sports Doctor Details Challenges, Risks of Kristaps Porzingis Playing in NBA Finals

Jrue Holiday's 'Championship DNA' Rubbing Off on Celtics

Inside the Moment that Propelled Celtics to NBA Finals Game 1 Win

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Bobby Krivitsky


Bobby Krivitsky's experiences include covering the NBA as a credentialed reporter for Basketball Insiders. He's also a national sports talk host for SportsMap Radio, a network airing on 96 radio stations throughout the country. Additionally, he was a major-market host, update anchor, and producer for IMG Audio, and he worked for Bleacher Report as an NFL and NBA columnist.