Derrick White has come a long way since coming off the bench for the San Antonio Spurs. And DeMar DeRozan would know.
DeRozan, whose Chicago Bulls will face White's Boston Celtics at TD Garden on Tuesday night, was teammates with White on the San Antonio Spurs for three seasons from 2018 to 2021. When DeRozan joined the team, White was entering his second NBA season and coming off a rookie campaign that was cut short after 17 games due to a fractured wrist.
Head coach Gregg Popovich saw potential in the Colorado product, however -- and let White know in classic Pop fashion.
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"Pop was on his ass every day. Oh my God," DeRozan said of White during the Bulls' shootaround at TD Garden on Tuesday morning, via CLNS Media's Bobby Manning. "I'm talking about every day, I saw Pop being Pop to Derrick."
As DeRozan pointed out, though, Popovich coached White hard for a reason.
"You see why, because Pop saw something in Derrick that shows now why he is who he is in this league," DeRozan added.
White developed into a solid rotation player under Popovich's tutelage but has blossomed in Boston since the Celtics acquired him via trade in February 2022.
The 29-year-old averaged 12.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game last season while shooting a career-high 38.1 percent from 3-point range and earning NBA All-Defensive Second Team honors. He's taken another leap this season, taking over as Boston's starting point guard and ranking third in the entire NBA in net rating (14.0) as one of the team's most valuable players.
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White still flies under the radar on the Celtics' talent-laden roster, but his development probably doesn't surprise Popovich, who gushed about his former player when the Spurs played the Celtics last March.
"Derrick's a really special case of someone over time figuring out that he belongs," Popovich said at the time. "He started out in a small college situation, obviously, and matriculated to a Division I school. And then we got him. And in development, he was just outstanding. He spent a lot of time before and after practices and summer leagues and learning how to play.
"You could see he had the size at that position to do it. And the immediate thing that you could see was that he had an instinctive nose for the game. He understood how to play. Most NBA players don't know how to play. He did."
Tip-off for Celtics-Bulls is set for 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, with NBC Sports Boston's coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET.