Why Celtics rallying around Derrick White bodes well for the future

Why Celtics rallying around Derrick White bodes well for the future originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Talk about a full circle moment.

Derrick White, having just completed the best month of his NBA career, was lounging on the bench in San Antonio on Sunday night watching Boston’s reserves polish off a lopsided win over the team that drafted him when the crowd started chanting, “White’s an All-Star.”

The player who Spurs coach Gregg Popovich suggested earlier in the day needed to be talked up to prove he belonged in the NBA when he was first drafted was now being serenaded with chants that suggest he belongs among the most elite of his profession.

Sure, the crowd was probably 50 percent Celtics fans. But it was still a moment. And the All-Star decree wasn’t even the coolest part of it.

No, the coolest part was watching White’s current teammates revel in the moment. White sat on the bench surrounded by an All-Star tandem in Al Horford and Jaylen Brown, who gleefully clapped along to the chant. Behind White, his backcourt mate Jrue Holiday bopped giddily along to the cadence of the chant and later crashed White’s walkoff interview to sing the refrain again.

It’s incredibly wholesome when a team can revel in the individual successes of one of its members. The Celtics, overflowing with talent, are lobbying for their entire starting five to make the All-Star game this year. That’s not happening. But you get the sense that, if the team is going to deliver a few players there, the Celtics would really like to see White get his moment in the spotlight.

The vibes in Boston seem pretty strong around these Celtics as the calendar flips to 2024. Sure, winning has a way of making everyone a little happier. But watching the Celtics celebrate White seems like a solid suggestion that everyone is pulling in the same direction.

Instead of everyone being caught up in their own accolades, these Celtics find joy in the spotlight landing on a player who seems to do his best to avoid it.

White deserves the fanfare. His on/off splits continue to be outrageous. Boston is outscoring opponents by 15 points per 100 possessions in White’s 945 minutes of floor time. That’s the best net rating in the NBA among all players averaging more than 24 minutes per game. The players immediately behind him on that list: Joel Embiid, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kristaps Porzingis, Tyrese Maxey, and Nikola Jokic. What’s more, Boston’s net rating drops to a team-worst +3.0 during his 611 minutes on the bench.

Over 14 games in the month of December, White averaged 20.8 points per game on 50/40/90 splits. He shot 50.8 percent from the floor, 43.5 percent beyond the 3-point arc, and 95.3 percent from the free-throw line. He added 5.4 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, and 1.4 steals per game.

White’s All-Star candidacy became a talking point a few weeks ago before balloting even opened. Now, there feels like a honest-to-goodness momentum to look beyond his basic stat line and celebrate a player who is clearly leaving an imprint on the best team in basketball.

Will the rest of the coaches in the Eastern Conference celebrate that when they vote for All-Star reserves at the end of the month? They ought to take some advice from that San Antonio crowd.

Celebrating White is nothing new in Boston. When White elevated for a dunk off a Jaylen Brown steal on Sunday, the entire Celtics bench tumbled onto the floor in jubilation. The looks on their face said it all: What can’t this man do?

In order to get White to Indianapolis, the Celtics likely will need to keep this campaign going for the next few weeks. Indiana native Brad Stevens might need to get on the phone and remind some of his former coaching brethren just how the team feels about White’s impact on winning this season.

Even if White gets squeezed out on a trip to the February exhibition, the scene in San Antonio on Sunday night bodes well for the Celtics moving forward. Boston has had talented teams before where the chemistry was far from ideal (looking at you, 2019 season). Vibes alone are not enough to carry a team to a title, but the Celtics have the talent to match.

White delivered one heck of a 2023, from his growth on the court to the Game 6 tip-in against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, to welcoming his second child.

There’s a chance that 2024 could be even better. An All-Star nod? A title push? A lucrative contract extension?

Few in San Antonio could have envisioned this a half decade ago. But White’s star turn deserves to be celebrated by everyone involved.