The easy answer is: Dewayne White, Jr. who was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama twenty-three years ago. He attended Indiana University where he was a Freshman All-American and was the de facto star of a disappointing Hoosier era that ran out head coach Mike Davis and ushered in Kelvin Sampson. After his eligibility expired in 2008, White was selected by the Detroit Pistons with the 29th pick of the first round and promptly traded him to the Seattle SuperSonics.
By the time he signed his first professional contract the team was headed to Oklahoma City, and since then, pinning down what or who D.J. White is or will become is harder than figuring out who is Kaiser Soze.
Is he another example of Sam Presti mining gold at the end of the first round? Is he a guy who will cash three million dollars worth of salary without ever contributing anything of significance? Is he a budding offensive star or a garbage time hero? Is he injury prone? Does he have bad luck? Can he break into the rotation?
So many questions and so few answers. What we do know is that he missed nearly his entire rookie season when a benign growth was found in his jaw during the preseason. Two surgeries that left him looking like, for a time, the elephant man with his humongous jawline, kept him from being allowed to participate in contact. When he was cleared to play, he spent some time dominating the D-League and then got a chance with the big team when the season had been written off and Sam Presti wanted to see what the young bench guys could do with extended minutes.
Obviously, with a limited sample size, White looked like an offensive juggernaut. Behind 52% field goal shooting (including 7 for 8 in his career debut), White scored 8.9 points an outing. Projected out to starters minutes (36 per game), it would equate to 17.2 points per game. The 6’9″ 250 pounder looked like the type of scoring big man who could come off the bench to give the Thunder a great boost when the first team caught their breath.
In his sophomore season, that has not been the case. Caught in a logjam at power forward, White has spent far more games in suits than out of his warmup. Through 49 games, White has checked into the game a grand total of eight times. There are some theories about why he has lacked playing time, but none have to do with lack of effectiveness. In those eight games, White has scored a point in every two minutes he plays and has done so on a whopping 68% from the floor.
One of those theories is that White needs to work on his rebounding. Except the numbers suggest that isn’t the case. Project his rebounds to starter minutes and he’d be pulling in 7.5 per game–which is actually slightly better than the 7.4 Durant grabs per game to lead the team.
Another theory is that he isn’t athletic enough to play defense. That has some more credibility. Serge Ibaka, while statistically inferior, has rocketed past D.J. in the depth chart. On the other hand, White’s Defensive Rating of 108 is not significantly worse than Serge’s 100, at least not enough that White’s offensive prowess shouldn’t earn him some spot minutes when the team is struggling to get on the scoreboard.
Some may think his injuries, if you can classify cancer as an injury, have set him back. Again, he still had a head start on Ibaka, and prior to an ordinary thumb set back recently, he was perfectly healthy in his competition with the uber-athletic Congolese rookie.
So why can’t he crack the rotation? Truthfully, I’m at a loss.