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Coach Popovich doesn't expect Derrick White to return for Spurs this season after ankle injury

Popovich said he'd start rookie Devin Vassell and let Lonnie Walker IV continue to provide a boost off the bench like Manu Ginobili did.
Credit: AP
San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White (4) tries to block a shot by Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

SAN ANTONIO — Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Wednesday that he doesn't expect starting guard Derrick White to return this year after he suffered a bad-looking ankle sprain in a win over the Wizards Monday.

"You can imagine his spirits are not high, and I don't expect him back this season," Popovich said, though he noted he probably wouldn't need surgery.

The timing couldn't be worse for White, who was finally getting back to being the type of two-way difference maker he was in the Orlando bubble last season. He missed time at the start of the season rehabbing a dislocated toe, broke that same toe in his return, and after he got back from that, he was sidelined by coronavirus.

The 31-29 Spurs have 12 games remaining in the regular season as they fight for positioning in the playoff race in the West. They'll most likely wind up somewhere in the play-in tournament, but White's injury makes a brutal schedule even tougher.

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White was averaging 18 points per game in April, hitting 36% of his team-high 7.6 attempts per game from deep. He's tied as the best shot-blocking guard in the league at a block per game, and only five players are ahead of him in terms of charges taken this year.

The injury itself was tough to watch, as he appeared to twist his right ankle when he came down on teammate Jakob Poeltl's foot, landing with most of his body weight and screaming in pain. He struggled to put weight on it, was helped to the locker room and did not return. The team called it an ankle sprain, but did not specify what grade, or if it's a high-ankle sprain. 

When asked how the Spurs would move on without him, Pop answered with a stone face, "Somebody else plays in his spot."

As for who, Pop gave some rare insight into his thought process for lineup and rotation management.

"I think that Devin (Vassell) will start, so we can keep Lonnie in his role that he's playing now coming off the bench kind of like Manu did for us, to give us that little bounce," he said.

Vassell has looked crisp in his rookie season, bringing long-range shot-making, versatile defense, and tremendous upside. White's return to the lineup resulted in a slashing of his minutes, but now he's poised for more.

"When he gets minutes, he's played well. When he gets fewer minutes, I think the rookie part comes out, where he's probably more in a little bit of a hurry, presses a little bit, wants to do something good, doesn't want to make a mistake," Pop said. "In this situation he will get more minutes, so I expect him to develop very well."