Celtics

‘A complete culture fit’: Spurs beat writer Tom Petrini provides a closer look at Derrick White

"I think Boston is going to love him."

Derrick White scored 15 points in his Celtics debut. Michael Dwyer/AP Photo

If Friday night is any indication, Derrick White will fit in just fine with the Celtics.

The newly acquired guard racked up 15 points (on 6-of-12 shooting), 6 rebounds, and 2 assists, and finished a game-high plus-11 in 28 minutes on the floor. He came off the bench but was on the court late to help the Celtics finish off the Nuggets, 108-102, to cement their seventh straight win.

Tom Petrini, who covers the Spurs for KENS 5, has watched White play for years and always admired his energy and versatility. He shared his insight on how he expects his skill set and mentality will translate in Boston. Here’s a closer look:

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Boston.com: What should Celtics fans know about Derrick White?

Tom Petrini: Derrick White is a really well-rounded combo guard. He plays with fire and intensity, smarts, and really just loves to make winning basketball plays. I think probably the Derrick White-iest game ever was when the Spurs were in the bubble playing the Kings and they needed a win to keep their hopes alive. He took his fifth charge of the game getting kicked in the crotch by Richaun Holmes, breaking his teeth, and the Spurs wound up winning. That’s just kind of what he brings, is that intensity and that right play at the right time mentality.

BDC: How do you envision him fitting alongside Marcus Smart?

TP: I think it’s an interesting pairing. White’s shooting is down this year, around 31 percent from deep, but he’s a better 3-point shooter than that. He can do a little bit of whatever’s needed from the guard. I’m more interested in if the Celtics were to — which I think they’ll probably do — explore staggering them so that you can spend 48 minutes a game with either Marcus Smart or Derrick White guarding the other team’s primary guard. That’s pretty solid and pretty dangerous. Combine that with all the other defensive pieces that the Celtics have, and I think it’s definitely a solid move.

BDC: How do you anticipate his playmaking ability helping Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown?

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TP: Dejounte Murray has been putting up bigger assist numbers this year with higher usage, but Derrick White has been the guy who threw the more creative passes, to my eye. He has a good lob in his bag, and the timing on that is something I think he can work on with Jaylen and Jayson. It’s really going to come back to making the right play. His primary value is that versatility that allows him to do whatever’s necessary. He’s been an effective piece with the ball in his hands, has a nice flow to the game, and finds teammates well in the pick and roll. While he was capable of playing off-ball next to Dejounte Murray, I think he might, in Boston, have more of an opportunity to take more lead guard responsibilities.

BDC: How have you seen him evolve from his rookie year until now under Gregg Popovich’s guidance?

TP: I think the interesting thing with Derrick White, the Spurs took him with the 29th pick in 2017, and this was a guy who played Division III and wound up transferring late. He went to a culinary school to play hoops and came out an experienced draft pick. He was 22 when he was drafted. Really for him, through the G-League — where he won a championship with Austin — to becoming a solid rotational player in the NBA, the question about him was that he can do a lot of different things, but is there any one thing he can do at an elite level? Really, the answer to that question has been his defense. His offensive game is well-rounded enough that he’s a legitimate two-way player, but defense is how you earn minutes in Pop’s rotation as a young player, and it’s also really core to Derrick White’s identity and who he is as a player. When I saw the trade, I was immediately sad, because I’ve loved watching him play here and learn and grow. I think Boston is going to love him. It’s a complete culture fit. He’s a thoughtful guy. He’s kind of a nerd. He likes math jokes. He’s a dad joke guy. Make sure to ask about that. He’s just been a steady piece for this Spurs team to rely on this year when they’ve been in sort of a rebuilding set. It’s been him, Dejounte Murray, and Jakob Poeltl who have been the most important Spurs. For him to grow from somebody who had no Division I offers to the really solid combo guard in the NBA that he is today is a testament to his work ethic and the training and development staff in San Antonio.

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