Derrick White has been a great fit for Celtics … except for his shooting

The Celtics don't need White to be a marksman, but a few more hits would help.

Derrick White
Boston Celtics guard Derrick White in the first half of an NBA basketball game. AP Photo/Steven Senne

The Celtics didn’t acquire Derrick White at the trade deadline because he shoots particularly well.

After all, White has never really been a knock-down shooter. He’s serviceable — 33.8 percent for his career from deep, with some up-and-down seasons — but the Celtics traded for him because 1) he’s a talented, versatile defender and 2) he can help handle the ball and distribute, which makes Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown better (Brad Stevens’ stated goal in roster construction).

Those two goals appear to be in great shape — with White on the floor, the Celtics are 6.6 points per 100 possessions stingier than usual, according to Cleaning the Glass. Meanwhile, lineups with White and Tatum outscore opponents by 15.2 points per 100 possessions (98th percentile league-wide), and lineups with White and Brown outscore opponents by 11.1 (96th percentile). In a very limited sample size, the lineup of Marcus Smart-White-Brown-Tatum-Robert Williams mashed opponents by more than 33 points per 100 possessions.


In other words, White is doing nearly everything the Celtics hoped he would do … except improve as a shooter. They certainly hoped he would be better than this.

White shot a career-low 31.4 percent from 3-point range for the Spurs this season. Right after the trade, Udoka acknowledged that White was having a “tough year” in San Antonio, but the expectation was that with cleaner looks, he would revert back to form.

“With the other guys on the team, we like the open shots [he’ll get],” Udoka said.

Udoka was half-right: The shots have been open. In Boston, the vast majority of White’s shots classify as either open or wide-open per the NBA’s tracking data. Nearly every 3-pointer he has taken in a Celtics uniform is open or wide-open (in San Antonio, 36.3 percent of White’s shots were tightly contested 2-pointers).

But even with better looks, White can’t find the range. Since joining the Celtics he is shooting an icy 24.3 percent from deep, and the Celtics are feeling the crunch. Teams know White is slumping and aren’t about to let the Celtics get away with using him as a floor spacer.

Take this possession against the Grizzlies as an example. White’s defender — De’Anthony Melton, circled below — has completely abandoned him.

On the play, Tatum made the right read — White’s man doubled just one pass away, and Tatum kicked it out. Melton scrambled back, but White got a very clean look (he missed).


Even if White was shooting 36 or 37 percent from 3, Melton might have doubled anyway — Tatum is on such a heater that his offense makes opponents panic. Still, that’s the point: If Melton doubles, White needs to punish him for it. Hitting 3-pointers is the simplest way to counter the defensive decisions Tatum forces an opponent to make.

Here’s another example. The Hornets played a zone defense in their last meeting with the Celtics, daring Celtics shooters to beat them (again, instead of Tatum). With Tatum on the bench, the Hornets stayed in their trapping zone. When the ball swung to White, Kelly Oubre abandoned him and ran to Jaylen Brown.

White didn’t ball-fake or even really look Brown’s way. Oubre simply made a decision that his services were better utilized in the corner on Brown rather than on White above the break (again, White missed the shot).

The Celtics maintain that White will find his range. Udoka told reporters Monday that shooting takes “some time” to come around after a trade, noting that the Celtics still have 15 games to get White and Daniel Theis acclimated.

“I’d say he’s a better shooter than shown here,” Udoka said on Monday, after the Celtics went ice cold against the Mavericks. “He’s had some really good looks but we missed a lot yesterday. I mean, in general, it wasn’t just him. …


“We will live with those shots. He mixes it up really well whether he’s a threat off the ball, catching it and driving it and making a play, or initiating offense or catching and shooting so we want him to stay confident, understand how important he is for us going forward.”

White is undeniably important for the Celtics not only the rest of this season, but also for several more — he’s under contract through 2025. Expect great defense. Expect solid facilitating and a nice fit with Tatum and Brown.

Still, the Celtics also really need better 3-point shooting — they are currently 23rd in 3-point percentage at 34.3 percent, worst among all teams in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

These things do “take time,” but while 3-point shooting is difficult, it isn’t complicated. A regression to the mean — or at least close to the mean — for White would be a big boost for everyone involved. 


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