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The Celtics Officially Gave Derrick White The Keys To Run The Show, So Here's What We Should Expect

Brian Fluharty. Getty Images.

While I can't imagine the news took anyone who pays attention by surprise, Joe Mazzulla came out and confirmed what we all figured would be the case when it came to the new role of Derrick White

Maybe you thought the team might shift gears and start Brogdon as some sort of way to make up for basically trying to trade him this summer, but that's not the case

As anyone who watches this team play will tell you, guard play is extremely important. Yes, the play of Tatum and Brown ultimately dictates how the season will go. How they integrate Porzingis and how effective he is playing high pressure basketball matters. But for this entire thing to work, the guard play has to be up to par. Last year was a perfect example of that in my opinion. When the Smart/White/Brogdon trio played well, it took everything up a level. When they struggled, it didn't really matter what the Jays did. 

Now having traded Marcus Smart, there's an increase in pressure for the current trio of White/Brogdon/Pritchard to keep the status quo. Roles are going to have to change slightly now that one of the best passers on the team is no longer there, and as the starting point guard, you're the straw that stirs the drink. It's not just about assists or being efficient, it's understanding what the game needs at any given moment. It's getting guys the ball in the right spots, it's figuring out who hasn't taken a shot in a while, and getting them the ball so they remain engaged. Essentially, you're the brain of the entire operation.

After being given the keys to the car, the time is now for Derrick White to take that additional leap.

It was hard to ignore the leap Derrick took last year given the fact you could make the case he was their 3rd best overall player. Seeing as how he was more of an off ball player with that group, the jump needed to come via his shooting more than anything else, and man did he deliver. He finished the year with 46/38% splits, which was arguably the best shooting season of his career. His jumper became more consistent through not only an improvement in his mechanics, but a change in his confidence. There was no hesitation.

Now with Prozingis in the mix, things will have to change for Derrick in terms of what he's now going to be asked to do. The off ball shooting is still important given how much the Jays may handle the ball, but essentially Joe and Brad are giving White complete control of running the show. The question now becomes, how will that look?

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The encouraging thing is we do have a little bit of a sample of what this looks like. During the time when Smart was out from 1/21-2/15, we got a "legit" look at what Starting Point Guard Derrick White looked like.

In those 13 games, the production was about as good as you could ask for

19.1/4.3/5.6 on 48/42% splits with 2.8 3PM a game

Now, during that stretch, the Celts went 8-5 (meh) with the 17th ranked offense in the league (gross), the 5th ranked defense (good), and the 5th best net rating (good). Personally, I don't worry too much about the offensive rating during that stretch because you also have to remember that over those 13 games Jaylen Brown missed 6. The bigger takeaway for me was with an increased role as more of an on ball player, how did White handle things? 

There was his great performance against the Sixers in a win

Another great one against the Grizzlies a few days later

His dominant performance against the Hornets (as expected)

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and then of course everything he did against the Bucks a few days later in that brutal OT loss which certainly wasn't on him

So from an eye test perspective, everything we saw from White during that stretch suggests that he's ready for this increased role.

It's also interesting when you see the numbers behind what we watched. If you look at how White's AST% trended last season, something that's going to be pretty important for the new starting point guard, there's certainly reason for optimism

Go back to that 1/21-2/15 run an look at where the numbers are. Right around 25% for the most part (25.9% to be exact) once he took over a starting point guard role. To put it simply, that's more than good enough. If the question is now "how do they replace Smart's passing", based on this graph the answer is simply "Let Derrick do it". Sure Tatum will take more of a passing role, as will Brogdon, but the Celts certainly do not need to reinvent the wheel here when it comes to playmaking from their point guard position.

If you were curious, here's how that 25% number stacks up with some other notable guards

Smart: 25.6%

SGA: 24.9%

Kyrie: 23.3%

Brogdon: 22.3%

So, you could make the case that when it comes to AST% and raw assist numbers, there shouldn't be that much of a dropoff in theory with White running the show. Especially now that they also get to add in the offense of Porzingis. That's the good news. 

That's not all either. I think one of the main differences we'll see with White now running the show is a cut down on turnovers from the guard position. While he's certainly not as flashy of a passer as Marcus, that's OK. What White does provide is solid passing with maybe better decision making. He's not going to take the same level of risk with the ball. Since coming to Boston, White has had a TO% under 11%. During that stretch as a starter, it did go up slightly which makes some sense since he had the ball more, but it still was a respectable number

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For reference, Smart had a 17.9% TOV% last year.

This is important to me for a few reasons. For starters, it means fewer empty trips on offense. Nothing worse than not even giving your team a chance if you aren't getting shots up. But let's not overlook what this also means defensively as well. Fewer turnovers mean fewer transition opportunities which means you become harder to score on. For a team that wants to get back to a defensive identity, limiting easy buckets is pretty important. So while there may not be the same level of flashy passes, I think we would all take that for an improvement in ball security and defense. 

Defensively, we know what we're getting with White. While he may not be able to guard 1-5 in the same way Smart was, what he does bring is great length, good on ball defense, and elite rim protection for a guard. Remember, this was a guy that led the NBA in blocks as a guard during the regular season (76) AND postseason (20). That shit is real. 

The importance of how White performs as the starting point guard is larger than just the overall team success too. For my money, the Derrick White extension is now the most important thing for Brad to figure out in terms of his roster

Smart is gone. I think we can all agree the Celts most likely are not extending Brogdon after his current deal is up after 2024-25 if he's even on the roster after this season to begin with. That leaves Pritchard (a question mark to stay) and JD Davison. Given what the Celts cap is about to look like, starting point guard is going to be a pretty glaring concern rather quickly, which means keeping Derrick on the roster (or having a plan for a suitable replacement) is fairly important. 

I don't think it's crazy to suggest that this is a tryout of sorts when it comes to what this team does with committing to White long term at the position. It's probably not crazy to suggest he's somewhere in the $20-$25M number in terms of the market, so Brad's going to face a similar situation where if they don't plan on extending White, they basically have to trade him a year early. With no real replacement on the roster, that's something to keep an eye on. 

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Of course, it's not all positive. There were still some instances where White disappeared in terms of a scorer and his efficiency was maybe up and down. But to me, that mattered more in his old role compared to what it will be in 2023-24 and beyond. Last year he sort of had to step up as the #3 option in terms of offense/shooting. That's no longer the case, and as constructed the Celts in theory should be much better at surviving the White shooting valleys compared to what we watched last season. 

Heading into another title or bust season, there's certainly pressure on everyone. Pressure on Tatum to take another MVP leap, pressure on Jaylen to play up to his supermax, pressure on Porzingis to be that piece that gets them over the hump, pressure on Joe to improve etc.

But don't sleep on the guards. White not only has pressure to fill the void at point guard, but there's also pressure to show that he's worth committing to long term.

I can't wait to see how it all shakes out.