Why Derrick White is the right replacement for Kawhi Leonard on Team USA at the Olympics

Why Derrick White is the right replacement for Kawhi Leonard on Team USA at the Olympics

L.A. Clippers superstar Kawhi Leonard is officially withdrawing from the Team USA roster before the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

It is a major blow for Team USA to lose Leonard, a two-time NBA Finals MVP and two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Leonard, also a six-time NBA All-Star, was going to provide valuable impact on both sides of the ball during the Olympics.

Leonard had completed multiple practices (including a very competitive scrimmage against top 2025 NBA Draft prospect Cooper Flagg and the USA Men’s Basketball Select Team) as training camp for the group recently began in Las Vegas.

However, even before training camp started, Leonard’s status was a question mark. During the 2024 NBA Finals, for example, Adrian Wojnarowski went on the record to say that there was already a frontrunner to replace him if he wasn’t ready to go (via ESPN):

“I’m told Derrick White looms as a real potential candidate for Team USA in the Summer Olympics if Kawhi Leonard is unable to successfully rehab back from that knee inflammation that kept him out of the back end of the playoffs. You have seen White’s two-way prowess on display throughout the season and then in the season.”

Once news broke that Leonard was officially out of the competition, The Athletic’s Shams Charania also reported that White was a “strong candidate” to replace him.

Less than an hour later, Andscape’s Marc J. Spears reported that the decision was official and that White would join the roster.

On first glance, White may not make sense as a one-to-one replacement for a player who is as accomplished as Leonard. White has never even made an All-Star team and is now going to play on one of the best basketball teams ever assembled.

But there are plenty of reasons why he is the correct guy for the job.

Already in the Pool

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There were several players who did not initially receive invitations for Team USA. Some of those omissions included big names like Trae Young, LaMelo Ball, Zion Williamson, and Tyrese Maxey, and more.

Those players were never going to receive the call that White did.

Some in the player pool but did not make the roster included past All-Stars such as Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Donovan Mitchell, Jaylen Brown, De’Aaron Fox, Brandon Ingram, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jarrett Allen.

Other names were Mikal Bridges, Paolo Banchero, Desmond Bane, Scottie Barnes, Jalen Brunson, Alex Caruso, Aaron Gordon, Josh Hart, Tyler Herro, Chet Holmgren, Cam Johnson, Walker Kessler, Bobby Portis, Austin Reaves, Duncan Robinson, and White.

The Right Style

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Among the players in the player pool but not on the roster, Team USA would have wanted to find a defensive-first option to replace Leonard.

That eliminates offensive-oriented players such as Lillard, Paul, Harden, Irving, Fox, Brunson, Herro, and Robinson (among others as well). They also would likely want more of a perimeter defender which would cut names like Jackson, Allen, Banchero, Gordon, Holmgren, Kessler, and Portis.

That still leaves a few potential candidates, though not very many, and White stands out.

Per dunksandthrees, the Boston guard finished 92nd percentile in Offensive Estimated Plus-Minues (oEPM) and 91st percentile in Defensive Estimated Plus-Minus (dEPM) last season.

It was the fourth season in a row he ranked in the 90th percentile or better in overall EPM. Yet he has accomplished all this while maintaining a low usage rate, which suggests he is able play well within his role next to ball-dominant teammates.

White doesn’t need the ball in his hands to make an impact and he can play in various different lineup styles. He also feels unlikely to complain if he has a smaller role or has minimal playing time, which may not be as true for some of the other players above.

Previous Experience

(Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

White know what it takes to win at the highest level, especially coming off a title with the Celtics last season.

He also has previous experience playing for Team USA as well. The guard was on the roster for the senior national team during the 2019 FIBA World Cup, helping earn a berth in the subsequent Summer Olympics as one of the best finishers from the Americas.

The head coach for the squad was Gregg Popovich and one of the assistants was Steve Kerr, who is currently the head coach for Team USA in 2024. He played alongside his future teammate Jayson Tatum, who projects as one of the lead contributors for the current roster as well.

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