After a string of disappointing losses, the Boston Celtics have responded with two of their best wins of the season. They closed up their six-game road trip with a resounding 132-109 victory over the Sacramento Kings, and then returned home to Boston to put together a commanding 120-95 victory over the Indiana Pacers. The common denominator in both games was more strong outings from Derrick White.
In his first full season with the Celtics, White has turned himself into a crucial piece of the team's operation. Whether he's operating as a starter or coming off the bench, White has become far more confident on offense, whether it involves scoring himself or setting up his teammates, while remaining a feisty defender on the perimeter as well.
Due to the fact that he's been available for every game Boston has played this season, White has started in 62 of the team's 74 games. But now that the Celtics are about as healthy as they have been all season long, they have a bit of a conundrum when it comes to picking out their starting lineup. One thing is clear, though; as the playoffs draw near, it's time for White to become Boston's full-time starting point guard.
Derrick White needs to be the Celtics starting point guard moving forward
The Celtics have been able to boast one of the deepest backcourts in the NBA all season long, with White teaming up with Marcus Smart, Malcolm Brogdon, and Payton Pritchard to ensure Boston will never be shorthanded here. Splitting minutes up among these guys has been tough, but for the most part, White has been the pillar of consistency among this group.
White's numbers on the season aren't outrageous (12.3 PPG, 4 APG, 3.5 RPG, 46.1 FG%, 38.2 3P%) but he's been Boston's third most-valuable player behind Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. White plays smart, fast, and his very strong decision-making skills when running the offense. Despite that, he can't seem to surpass Smart on the depth chart for whatever reason.
It's not hard to see that White has been outplaying Smart this season (11.3 PPG, 6.4 APG, 3.2 RPG, 41.4 FG%, 33.3 3P%) and the gap between the two is becoming clearer as the season goes on. You can make a case that Brogdon should be starting over Smart as well (14.5 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 3.6 APG, 48.2 FG%, 45.1 3P%) but he has come off the bench all season long, so there's no sense in changing that now.
White has continued to see an uptick in minutes as the season has progressed, but now head coach Joe Mazzulla is going to be faced with a tough decision as the playoffs approach. He's been able to start White for most of the season due to injuries Boston has faced, but now they are almost fully healthy. Will Mazzulla use a small starting lineup with Smart and White in the backcourt, or will he use a big starting lineup with Robert Williams and Al Horford in the frontcourt?
Given how good the Celtics are with Williams on the floor, it feels like they need to give him starting minutes come playoff time. In that case, White would likely revert back to the bench in favor of Smart. But that cannot happen; whichever lineup Mazzulla runs with, White needs to be the starting point guard moving forward if Boston wants to win.
White is averaging 28.3 minutes per game this season, but when he gets typical starter minutes, his numbers soar. In games in which White plays 30+ minutes, his per game numbers are even stronger than they were before (17.2 PPG, 5.6 APG, 4.4 RPG, 50.2 FG%, 39.8 3P%). Obviously his counting stats will go up when he plays more minutes, but White is actually shooting the ball better when he plays more minutes per game.
When you combine this with Smart's continued struggles on both sides of the ball, it makes a lot more sense for White to take control of this starting role. White has played more minutes than Smart in Boston's two most recent wins, and it shouldn't be a surprise that they have been two of the C's best wins in recent memory. White was outstanding in both games, and nearly dropped a pair of double-doubles in the process.
We've already taken a look at the problems Smart is causing the Celtics, but with White continuing to play well for Boston, they can't afford to continue ignoring the facts here. Boston is going to have to face some significant challenges in the postseason, and they will need their best players on the court as much as possible.
White has proven time and again that's Boston's best guard this season, and it's time for the coaching staff to reward him for his strong play by giving him the starting point guard role with the playoffs right around the corner.