Sky High

‘Jaw-dropping’ athlete White comes with a high ceiling

The Pistons learned a lot about Terrico White in Las Vegas and all of it was encouraging.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
Editor’s note: concludes a five-part series that looks at each of the five players who participated in NBA Summer League with a snapshot of Terrico White.

The Pistons drafted Terrico White without him having worked out for or meeting them. They took him to Las Vegas for NBA Summer League not sure if he could be groomed into an NBA point guard one day or not. They left Las Vegas still uncertain where he might wind up.

Here’s what they know: Terrico White is a phenomenal athlete with an innate ability to put the ball in the basket, and those guys just don’t fall off the turnip truck.

“Summer League for him was less about showing people he was a (point guard) or a (shooting guard) and more about showing people how he would play the one if he’s going to be a one and how he would play the two if he’s going to be a two,” Pistons personnel director George David said. “I don’t think Summer League really defined him as one of those positions. What it did was define how he would play those positions.”

While White didn’t display obvious playmaking instincts in Las Vegas, registering eight assists over five games while splitting time at the two backcourt spots, he did show he could be trusted to get a team into its offense without being turnover prone. In fact, in 130 minutes, White turned the ball over just four times.

So how would White, who unexpectedly fell to the Pistons at No. 36 in the second round after two seasons at Mississippi, play as a point guard?

“I think he’s a scoring one,” David said. “He’s a guy who’s got to be playing the one as somebody who is looking to score and to use his athleticism, his explosiveness, his first step. Guys like Russell Westbrook or Derrick Rose, you wouldn’t say they are pass-first, traditional point guards.

“When he was at the point, that would be the model of the type of player you would want to see out of him. The last thing you would want from him is to walk it up the court and pound it seven times as the play is going on, waiting for a guy to get open – you’re taking away from him.”

While White says he’s more comfortable at point guard – the position he played in high school, where he was a three-time AAA all-state selection in Tennessee and the Player of the Year as a senior – the Pistons thought he played more comfortably off the ball in Las Vegas.

“A lot of (playing shooting guard) is going to come naturally to him,” David said. “Once he gets a straight line to the basket, he’s difficult to stop.”

That’s because of what Joe Dumars calls White’s “jaw-dropping athleticism.”

The task of the coaching staff will be to draw out White’s athleticism and meld it with his basketball skills. They want him to be aggressive and turn his explosive athleticism to his advantage.

“I said to him, ‘Terrico, we will not talk to you about being aggressive day in and day out, because if we do, that means you’re going to fail,’ ” Dumars said. “I said, ‘You’re just a rookie coming in, and we’ll talk to you about how you have to play every day, but that can’t be the theme with you. You’ve got to go at it every day, every night.’ ”

“To assert himself all the time,” Pistons vice president Scott Perry identified as White’s first priority. “You’re talking about a guy with a 40-inch vertical. That’s strong. That can impact the game on a consistent basis with his athleticism. I think that’s what he’s got to do – that he understands that and plays with that attack mentality. That will be his challenge.”

The athleticism White exhibited in Las Vegas – most notably, throwing down a half-court lob thrown by Austin Daye or putting on an impromptu dunking exhibition after practice that included a 360 complete with transferring the ball from one hand to the other between his legs – was no surprise to the Pistons. White’s 40-inch vertical was tops at the Chicago draft combine, where his three-quarters court sprint was one-tenth of a second off of the lead and his 3.7 percent body fat rating was easily No. 1.

What perhaps surprised them was how quickly White seemed to pick up whatever the coaches told him.

“Terrico is a guy who is a tremendous listener,” David said. “That’s one of the things we got out of Summer League. He’s a guy that when you talk to him, he looks you in the eye and maintains eye contact, he gives you feedback that he’s understanding. If you tell him something, very rarely does it not correlate to the next time he goes out on the floor.”

“He makes plays that are coaching plays,” said John Kuester assistant Pat Sullivan, who ran the Pistons in Summer League, citing one play in particular where White sunk from the weak side and forced a jump ball. “And he’s making easy plays.”

White played under control and, away from the court, took everything in stride during his time in Las Vegas. Though quiet by nature, White carries himself with confidence.

“I thought everything went pretty well, overall,” White said of Summer League. “I just tried to learn over the week and a half we spent in Las Vegas – learn from my teammates, learn all the schemes on offense and on defense. I just tried to learn it all. We had to learn the plays real quick, which wasn’t hard for me. But I tried to learn more than just the plays. I also tried to learn the pace of the game, how hard you have to play. You have to be a good listener and you have to apply what you learn.”

White’s unflappability was on full display in crunch time of his first Summer League game when the Pistons closed with a 14-0 run to beat the Lakers by five. Ahead by a point with under 20 seconds left, White put a devastating move on veteran European point guard Ibrahim Jaaber that caused him to stumble. Though there were still 15 seconds left on the game clock – Sullivan had told White to make his move with seven seconds left – a wide-open jump shot presented itself and White confidently knocked it down.

“Coach was telling me to go and make my move at seven,” said White, a three-year starter at quarterback pursued by major football college program programs. “But he was pressuring me, so I had to go around him and make a move. When I saw him fall, I had to shoot and I made it.”

White, playing point guard on a team with a lottery pick and three other starters with a year of NBA experience, didn’t look to score as often as he might have, finishing Summer League with a 9.6 scoring average on 38 shots. But he showed he could finish at the rim, post up and jump over defenders to get off clean looks and a pretty stroke with 3-point range. In fact, he nailed a clutch step-back triple in the rally to beat the Lakers.

“He’s got a nice-looking jump shot coming in the door,” Perry said. “That will end up being one of his strengths – his ability to shoot the ball with some range and his ability to elevate over his defender and shoot.”

The Pistons left Las Vegas perhaps uncertain what position best suits Terrico White, but everything else they learned about him suggested a very bright NBA future.