Derrick White is an exceptional perimeter defender. He has the quick feet and dexterity to navigate screens with aplomb and stay in front of even the hottest of ball handlers. White isn’t huge, but he’s tall enough to compete with all but the league’s biggest wings when they attack the rebound.
He is equally impressive off the ball. White has near-perfect timing and is rarely out-of-place in providing help and executing rotations. He has a knack for sticking his hand in passing and driving lanes at just the right moment to disrupt an action or force a turnover.
White excels in almost every way teams hope a guard will provide defensive value, but his impact isn’t limited to such domains. He contributes consistently in a way traditionally reserved for big men: shot blocking.
White’s 1.3 blocks per 36 minutes are the most of any guard to play 500 minutes this year and are outpaced by only Robert Williams III and Luke Cornett among Celtics rotation regulars, according to NBA.com. And they’re not all the swipe-down, semi-stealth style swats that tend to make up the majority of many guards block totals (though certainly some are).
White consistently challenges would-be scorers as a weakside shot blocker in a way that is unusual among his positional peers. He has impeccable timing and just enough vertical pop to challenge opponents at the top of their leaps. White’s 1.8% block rate ranks in the 99thTh Percentile as compared to guards league-wide, per cleaning the glass.
Opponents shoot 58.9 percent from within 6 feet when White is the primary defender contesting their shot, according to NBA.com, a healthy 4.0 percentage points below expectations. That’s not an elite level of effectiveness, but it’s decidedly positive and beyond what would typically be expected from a 6’4″ guard.
White’s overall impact as a shot blocker is not comparable to the league’s best bigs. He simply doesn’t have the size to be an anchoring rim protector, and his responsibilities as a perimeter defender keep him busy away from the basket enough to keep him from turning away shots as often as players stationed closer to the rim.
Being the best shot blocking guard in the league is a bit like the fastest offensive lineman in the NFL. It’s interesting and useful, but ultimately not incredibly important. White’s shot blocking is layered on top of an impressive defensive resume. He’s great at the things that matter most to defenders of his size. Any rim protection he can provide to the Celtics is purely additive, and he is offered enough of it to qualify as significant.
Boston is competing at the highest level. Every little detail is important. The extra defensive juice that White’s shot blocking provides gives the Celtics a marginal advantage that shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s incredibly difficult to pinpoint his exact individual impact, but Boston’s performance when he plays offers little reason to doubt that he’s a meaningful contributor.
Opponents shoot 2.5 percent worse at the rim when White is on the court (76Th percentile), minutes during which the Celtics surrender just 109.3 points per 100 possessions (90Th percentile), 6.1 points less (90Th percentile) as when white sits, per cleaning the glass. Boston’s dearth in his minutes really shouldn’t come as a surprise. There’s almost nothing White doesn’t do well defensively, even when he’s tasked with responsibilities that aren’t common for a player his size.