Going into the draft, Royce White had not appeared on most Rockets fans radar screens as a potential selection. As the story had been presented by the media, it seemed almost fait accompli that White would be taken by the Celtics with the 21st pick, making the Rockets' selection at #16 a mild shock.
When David Stern got up at the podium for the 16th pick and announced that it wasn't Tyler Zeller, Rockets nation stood still for a moment, not knowing how to react. I must admit that I was disappointed to have passed up on Zeller, though I hadn't seen White more than a few times at the college level.
Jump as I wrestle with my feelings on White!
However, the more and more I digged into this guy, the more and more I began to love the selection. Kirk Haaland of Wide Right Natty Lite (a nomination for greatest blog name ever), was the first person to begin changing my mind, joining TDS for a Q&A a few days after the draft.
Using him to penetrate against bigs, on the block to score, at the elbow to square up, and running the dribble hand off are probably his best strengths. This past year when defenses would figure that a big couldn't stay in front of him so they'd sag off when he had the ball on the perimeter Royce would just run a dribble hand off with a shooter. He'd screen out the shooter's defender and his man was 10' away and not close enough to recover and help and hedge.
He will make some passes and some plays that will absolutely blow you away. It took about 20 seconds for Jim Calhoun to see that in the NCAA tournament. UCONN missed on their opening posession and Royce grabbed the rebound and dribbled upcourt. It wasn't a fast break and both teams were essentially getting set when Andre Drummond (who before the game was said to have been an athletic match for Royce and left the Huskies little worry about guarding him) got crossed over and never had a chance. Royce jumped off his right foot and tomahawked one home. When he gets going to the rim he is a freight train that not many people will step in front of and he will finish with authority.
His versatility is obvious and that is a huge strength for playing with a team if the coach isn't too concerned with the unorthodox thought of your 6'7 270 pound "power forward" having the freedom to bring the ball up the court or initiate the offense. If he has active guys that are cutting and moving and some shooters spotted around him, he will absolutely make the pass to the right guy at the right time.
And, for a couple of weeks there, I truly was excited. However, after watching the summer league and seeing flashes of brilliance interspersed with White looking over-matched athletically and inconsistent offensively, I must admit that I wrote White off, at least compared to my early excitement. He wasn't in Marcus Morris territory, but he wasn't far behind.
If you know anything about the Summer League, you'd know that that is exactly the wrong reaction to have. There is certainly something to be learned from Summer League play, but to evaluate a player as a whole is a gross overreaction to a few games in a gym without much of a set system.
Here's what Royce had to say to SLAM Magazine about his Summer League play:
I was not impressed. I had about two games in the beginning where I just couldn't get anything going, and then I had three games where I should have had a triple-double and couldn't get to it. So, nah, but I think that's good, though. I'm still at a point where I feel like I can grow.
So, with my summer job wrapped up and having a couple of weeks before I headed off to school, I made it my goal to reevaluate a few players I'd probably made snap judgements on, the first of which was Royce White. To say that watching a couple of college games of his completely changed my evaluation of him would be just as reactionary as writing him off after the summer league, but at the very least I was reinvigorated by seeing what he could do. After a full off-season and training camp to learn McHale's system, I was much more optimistic about his potential offensive contributions this year.
Unfortunately, even after watching him again with a more positive sentiment, I can't get over my biggest concern with White, his defense. With time in an NBA weight room and with the Rockets coaches, I think White has a great shot at getting to the point where he can guard NBA fours in the paint. He's not there yet, and that's likely the biggest factor holding him back from seeing much court time early in his career.
As is the case with all things off-season prediction related, only time will tell on Royce White. He's talented and intriguing on many levels, but there are questions about whether he can harness the whole package in an NBA system with four other legit players on the floor. For the Rockets sake, let's hope he can.
Programming note: As you probably notice, there aren't any links after the morning thoughts today. In order to better break up the content, the links will now be in their own slot, coming an hour or two after this post.