Boston Celtics

Popovich ‘couldn't be more thrilled' for White's leap forward with Celtics

Popovich also poked fun at White not playing against the Spurs on Wednesday night.

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Before Wednesday night's tip-off between the Boston Celtics and the San Antonio Spurs, five-time championship-winning coach Gregg Popovich took time during his pregame media availability to take a playful jab at his former player, Derrick White, followed by praise for how big of a leap he's taken.

White, who was ruled out of Wednesday night's contest with a left ankle sprain, is off to a career-best start to the season, averaging 15.9 points, 4.9 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game. The 29-year-old guard is currently seventh in the second return of All-Star votes among the Eastern Conference guards.

"He's afraid of us, he's not playing tonight, he's sitting it out," Popovich joked upon hearing of White being ruled out. "I had stuff planned and we were going to destroy him, so he sat out."

Popovich's comments were clearly said in a playful manner with the 7-32 Spurs sitting in last place in the Western Conference. Popovich coached White from his 2017 rookie season through his trade to the Celtics at the 2022 trade deadline, seemingly only happening to help San Antonio's chances at drafting French phenom Victor Wembanyama.

"It's not difficult at all," Popovich said when asked if it was difficult to see White succeed in Boston. "I'm thrilled for him, I mean, I love the kid. I keep in touch with him, he's one of the greatest examples of working through it. He played in the G-League a couple of years, didn't even think he belonged in the league. Started out at a small school in Colorado Springs and then ended up that final year at Colorado. He worked his fanny off. He got all those minutes there and gained confidence with each year, developing, and it's never stopped -- he's gotten better every single year, whether it's shooting or understanding the pick and roll."

Inspired by fellow Spur Manu Ginobili, White has focused on making his teammates better. He never cared about having the most points on the stat sheet or making a flashy pass -- White stuck to fundamental, Celtic basketball, putting his main concern on getting wins. Throughout this year, White has found -- and excelled in -- his role, with teammates having nothing but high praise, campaigning for the two-way guard to get his first All-Star nod.

"He always could pass really well," Popovich added of White. "He had a good affinity for passing. He had a good sense of space, defensively, and how to get some things done. But it was mostly a matter of confidence. It took time, but he got there. When he got here [Boston], playing with the guys he's playing with, he took another step. I couldn't be more thrilled for him."

In his five seasons with Popovich and the Spurs, White averaged 11.6 points, 3.9 assists, and 3.3 rebounds per game, which truly highlights how significant of a jump the potential All-Star made since coming to Boston. In his first full season with the Celtics last year, White was also awarded a spot on the 2022-23 All-Defensive team.

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