Boston Celtics big man Robert Williams III, known block aficionado, believes there is a direct correlation between his presence on the court and Derrick White’s eye-popping block total this season.
"We're kinda in an argument about who gets what blocks," said Williams III. "It seems like we're both on the same play when it's a blocked shot. I try to let him win a couple of them because he's my guy but I gotta start taking some away from him."
Such are the playful quarrels when a 6-foot-4 guard leads the Celtics in blocks on a team with a pair of All-Defense big men on the back line and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year at the other guard spot.
Stay in the game with the latest updates on your beloved Boston sports teams! Sign up here for our All Access Daily newsletter.
Williams III said he's happy to cede the title of Block King to White so long as he positively impacts the team’s defense, and winning as a whole.
Entering the final week of the 2022-23 season, the Celtics own the NBA’s fourth-best defense. There is a chance the team might even shuffle a spot or two higher before season’s end, as the Celtics sit just a fraction of a point behind both the Grizzlies and Bucks entering Monday’s play.
It would be criminal for one of the NBA’s top defensive teams not to be represented on the league’s All-Defense squads. And White, even with all that defensive talent around him, deserves a nod this season.
With a career-best 73 blocks in 78 games, White ranks 24th in the NBA in total swats. That’s wild enough for a player his size. But among players 6-foot-7 and under, he ranks No. 1, with a healthy lead over Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (65), Brooklyn’s Mikal Bridges (59), and Golden State’s Draymond Green (55).
Boston’s defensive rating is a starter-best 107.4 with White on the floor, and no other member of the starting five is within three points (closest: Jayson Tatum, 110.9). Boston’s defensive rating spikes to a team-worst 111.7 in White’s 1,598 minutes off the court.
Among all players 6-foot-7 or shorter with at least 65 games played (the NBA’s soon-to-be threshold for award consideration), White ranks fourth in the NBA in opponent field goal differential, holding opposing players to 2.8 percent lower than their expected outcome. Only Green (minus-5.7) and the Memphis duo of David Roddy (minus-3.1) and Dillon Brooks (minus-2.9) have better marks.
Eliminate the height restriction and White still ranks 13th overall among all NBA players with at least 65 games played. The top of the list is, as usual, dominated by rim-protecting big men.
The only other Boston regular who has held opponents to a lower mark is Al Horford. You could make a strong case for Horford's consideration on All-Defense, too, especially given the amount of shots he contests when he’s on the floor and the fact that he’s holding opponents to 3.9 percent below expected output.
Alas, even Horford, who earned his only All-Defense nod during his first Boston tenure in 2017-18, thinks White deserves to land on the squad.
"I personally think he’s probably First Team All-Defense already," said Horford. "You look around and it’s one of those things that, we can’t get caught up in names and reputations over the years. Focus on this year, focus on what he’s done, on the success of our team. It’s a big part of that. There’s no argument.
"It’s very impressive. His instincts, how hard he plays. He’s really working hard out there. He’s trying to play the right way. He’s doing the right things and it’s very clear. I don’t have to oversell it -- you just have to look at what it is.
"He is First Team All-Defense."
White distinguishes himself with his basketball IQ. He can get beat by a defender but times up a block despite giving up size. White is elite at taking charges and is set to finish in the top 20 in the NBA again this season (only Blake Griffin has more among Celtics teammates). White will finish second on Boston’s roster in total shots contested behind only Horford.
The strip block has become White's calling card this year. White tends to swat down as an opponent is going up with a shot and register the block.
"As long as they count, I don't care what they count as, man," joked Williams III. "As long as they give him the credit."
It feels somewhat odd to be lobbying for a new All-Defense inclusion given the stalwarts on the team. Marcus Smart is the reigning DPoY but admitted he hasn’t played to his typical standard this season.
Williams III’s impact on Boston’s defense is undeniable and reflected in a team-best defensive rating of 105.7 in his 767 minutes on the floor. Alas, he's only appeared in 33 games this season and will not draw serious consideration after missing the start of the season while rehabbing from knee surgery.
All that has only put a bigger spotlight on what White is doing. He’ll be the first to admit he’s not perfect on defense, and his size can get him in trouble against bigger wings, but he takes on all the challenges. And White is a wizard in transition with his ability to defend without fouling in those instances.
Earning an All-Defense honor when you wear the same jersey as a Smart, Williams III, and Horford isn’t easy. But, if you trust his teammates, White deserves the nod.