The ominous silence from the Houston Rockets regarding Royce White's departure from the team's D-League affiliate makes it pretty clear that it was not a mutual decision. White may be returning to Houston, but an analysis of his performance as a pro thus far will show that the RV ride from Hidalgo probably doesn't get him any closer to the NBA.
Let me start by saying that I am an unabashed Royce White fan. Kenny Anderson's freshman year at Georgia Tech made me a basketball fan, and I've loved passing more than any other skill since then. White makes passes I didn't even know were possible.
However, White's self-announced departure from the D-League leaves unanswered questions, including questions about White's attitude, his commitment to conditioning and his dedication to improving the numerous deficiencies in his game. I have watched and taken notes on several of his D-League appearances, all of which are archived for viewing at nba.com/dleague. As a fan, I would like nothing better than to see White prove himself at the NBA level. I have no doubt that White can be a rotation NBA player, but what I've seen of his career thus far leads me to question if he ever will.
First, let's look at White's game. In 26 minutes per game, White averaged 9.6 points on 42% shooting from the field and 62% shooting from the free throw line. The official stats show that he missed all six 3-pointers he attempted. He also averaged 5.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.7 turnovers per game. While his passing is spectacular, he tends to fall in love with the showy play and force passes that aren't there. In fairness, he would average more assists if his teammates converted more of the wide-open looks he routinely manufactures.
In White's first few games, I felt his teammates froze him out and limited his shot opportunities. As time went on, his teammates seemed to warm up to the fact that if they gave him the ball, he would create open shots for them. Possibly his best game came against the Idaho Stampede March 13th when he had 19 points, six rebounds and three assists. After several spectacular passes, White started to over-pass and ended up with more turnovers (four) than assists.
Now let's talk about White's emotional state. It quickly became clear to me that D-League refs are not there to simulate the way games are called in the NBA. If White ever makes it to the NBA, it will take about two games with the attitude he showed D-League refs for him to become a marked man. I thought the D-League refs showed remarkable restraint and appeared to give players every opportunity to stay in games.
In a March 2nd game against Santa Cruz, White completely overreacted after the refs failed to call a borderline over-the-back on Hilton Armstrong. After the 2nd quarter expired, White continued to jaw at the refs as he walked off the court and earned a tech. In the second half, a big-time rejection by Armstrong seemed to cause White to lose his composure. The refs let a shove by White go, but on the next trip down court he was called for throwing Travis Leslie to the floor and ejected.
After the game in Idaho, White seemed to be coming on strong. He was averaging better than a double-double per 36 minutes with good assist numbers, albeit with high turnovers. But in White's last game on March 16th, he put all of his shortcomings on display.
White was called for a questionable foul on Jerome Jordan in the 1st quarter and the poor body language began. White consistently failed to get any elevation when attempting shots and was blocked by Jordan with 7:35 to play in the quarter. Less than a minute later, on one of the rare occasions when White was ahead of the ball in transition defense, he made no effort to stop the ball handler and allowed Lazar Hayward an uncontested layup.
Moments after that, White used a quick first step to the baseline to lay it up over Jordan. Feeling there should have been a foul, White hurled the ball out of bounds resulting in a delay of game warning. The refs showed restraint to not call a tech, especially as White continued to jaw at the ref afterward. White finished out the quarter by bricking a baseline jumper, missing a dunk, missing a runner with no elevation and making a layup after a nice crossover at the 3-point line.
White got an extended break and checked back in just before halftime. He ended up with a dunk because L.A. turned the ball over on a fast break and White was still standing under the offensive basket. In the second half, White's effort was undistinguished other than a pick-and-roll layup when Jordan helped on the ball handler.
Again, I must emphasize that I love White's game and hope that he succeeds. He was consistently among the top players on his team in plus/minus, even if his point and rebound totals weren't high. On the question of what is best for White's mental health, I will, as White has requested of Houston officials, defer to medical professionals. But on the question of what is best for White's professional basketball career, I feel qualified to voice some opinions. White is very engaging in interviews and seems to be having fun when he's not sulking over calls. He's somebody that I can relate to because of his progressive politics. If I ever had a chance to sit down with White and tell him what I think, this is what I would say.
"Royce, you need to hop in the Winnebago and head back to Hidalgo to finish the season. If you let Rockets management think that the emotional strain of playing in the freaking D-League was too much for you to handle, you will N E V E R get called up to the senior squad. You're athletic, but if you dropped some weight and got in NBA shape it would help your explosiveness. Your ball skills are elite, but you need to prove that you can be trusted not to over-dribble or over-pass. And you need to stop with the refs. D-League refs don't have the egos that NBA refs have. If you get called up and go in with a Kobe-level sense of entitlement, they will eat you for breakfast."