Sixers making sure intriguing White feels at home

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Sixers making sure intriguing White feels at home

When Spencer Hawes heard that the Sixers had acquired 6-foot-9 power forward Royce White from the Houston Rockets, he was intrigued. Like everyone who follows the NBA closely, Hawes heard all about White and knew the story from what he had heard second hand and read in the papers.

White, it was reported, was troubled and talented. Suffering from a generalized anxiety disorder, the narrative indicated that White was more trouble than he was worth. If he could just get his act together, the conventional wisdom suggested White would be something else.

But Hawes wanted to learn the truth for himself, so he dialed up White and invited him out to dinner.

“You’ve seen his story,” Hawes said. “It obviously got a lot of coverage.”

Selected with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2012 draft by the Rockets out of Iowa State, White did not appear in a game last year. The perception was because White’s anxiety prevented him from flying, which made it difficult for him to get to half the games.

That wasn’t the case at all, White said.

“I think the most glaring one from listening to public opinion is that I can't fly -- that I don't want to fly and that I won't fly by choice,” White said last week. “Those are probably big ones. Other than that, I think a lot of the people think me and the Rockets went through a situation that was hostile, and it really wasn’t. It was more so a legislation thing and a [collective bargaining agreement] thing. I had to wait it out and get things right.”

Still, White did not travel with the Sixers on their trip to Spain and England for two exhibition games. Initially, White said he would accompany the team to Europe, but reports from the Sixers indicated that the team’s medical staff thought it would be best for the player to stay home.

“It really was just based on our team doctor giving me and [general manager] Sam [Hinkie] and the club advice that it may be best for him to remain at home," Sixers coach Brett Brown told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “You know we are with him. We will support and help him.”

Besides, there was plenty for White to do in Philadelphia. At age 22, White is a bit behind in his development as a player. Yes, Brown and Hinkie like White’s talent, but his fitness needs to improve.

Then again, White is still new at all of this. He played just a handful of games in the D-League last season and did not take part in the Rockets’ training camp. Essentially, White is starting over from scratch.

“I’m just getting back into the feel thing,” White said last week. “The feel thing has to become a repetition. I’ve been away for a while, so I’m still not making plays that are usually routine for me.

“At the same time last year, I wasn’t even in training camp. So this is a big improvement from eight, nine months ago. I’m just happy to be here right now, happy my body’s holding up.”

The Sixers could get a better gauge at how White holds up when they return from Europe to play the Celtics on Friday at the University of Delaware. If it’s anything like the way White had been practicing with the team, the Sixers will be pleased. According to Hawes, White was one of the standouts of the team’s training camp at Saint Joseph’s University, using his versatility and passing ability to turn some heads.

Brown agreed with Hawes’ assessment. However, Brown wants the Sixers to play a running, up-tempo style and White’s fitness level might prevent him from contributing much at first.

“I see a talented player that wants to do everything,” Brown said last week. “We want to try to put him in a clean role initially and then let him use his creative instincts. It’s based again on his fitness because he’s not in shape weight-wise and he knows it. He’s getting there.”

Maybe White will be a bit fitter when the Sixers return from Europe. In the meantime, White says his situation with the Sixers has left him in a good place.

That seems like the first step.

“I’m feeling great, feeling confident and having a great time with these guys,” White said. “I’m happy. The workout that I’m getting now and the support that I have feels good.”

White seems to be fitting in, too. After that invitation to dinner, Hawes has been impressed.

“He’s been nothing but good so far,” Hawes said. “He’s an interesting personality, that’s for sure.”

MRI on T.J. McConnell's wrist comes back negative; Nerlens Noel has ankle sprain

MRI on T.J. McConnell's wrist comes back negative; Nerlens Noel has ankle sprain

The Sixers will be without their starting point guard for the time being, as T.J. McConnell has left the team to return to Philadelphia to receive treatment for a right wrist strain and will miss Monday's game vs. the Bucks in Milwaukee.
 
An MRI taken on McConnell’s right wrist came back negative, according to Sixers coach Brett Brown.
 
“He has a strain,” Brown said. “There’s no structural damage. In relation to what that means with regards to his return to play, I don’t know that yet.”
 
McConnell is averaging 4.8 points and 5.4 assists in 38 games. He has started Philadelphia’s last seven games, a stretch during which the Sixers have gone 5-2.

With McConnell out, Sergio Rodriguez will start at point guard Monday against Milwaukee.

Rodriguez started 29 of the first 30 games he played this season, his first in the NBA since 2009-10. The 30-year-old is more of an offensive threat than the defensive-minded McConnell, averaging 8.8 points and 5.8 assists.  

“You immediately go to losing that defensive energy T.J. is known for,” Brown said. “Sergio is a more gifted scorer. T.J. is a more gifted defender. To have Nerlens (Noel) and Joel (Embiid) behind the scenes, we can make up some ground with Sergio.
 
“People understand Sergio’s pedigree. He’s a 30-year-old legend in Europe. He has a wealth of experience. He’s a medalist and an MVP of the Euro league. He also was our starting point guard for a while. We’re happy to give him back that responsibility.”

No Noel
In addition to McConnell, the Sixers on Monday will also be without the services of Nerlens Noel, who is dealing with a left ankle sprain. Noel came down with a season-high 12 rebounds in Saturday's loss to the Wizards.

Still restricted
Sixers center Joel Embiid will still be on a 28-minute restriction Monday against the Bucks.

Embiid sat out Saturday’s 109-93 loss to Washington after playing 28 minutes in a 102-93 win over Charlotte on Friday. He has reached 30 minutes just once in his 27 games this season.

Sixers-Bucks 5 things: Joel Embiid back to face the 'Greek Freak'

Sixers-Bucks 5 things: Joel Embiid back to face the 'Greek Freak'

Sixers at Bucks
3:30 p.m. - CSN/CSNPhilly.com/streaming live on the NBCSports App

The Sixers (12-26) look to get back in the win column when they face the Milwaukee Bucks (20-19) at the Bradley Center in a Martin Luther King Day matinee.

Let's take a closer look at Monday afternoon's matchup:

1. Back on the Embiid express
The Sixers have started to show flashes of coming together and finally turning the corner on their massive rebuild. However, they are nowhere near the point that they can remove the biggest piece of the puzzle and still expect to win games.

The Sixers found that out again on Saturday night, as they were pummeled during the second half of a 109-93 loss to the Washington Wizards with Joel Embiid sidelined for rest.

The team didn't want to use the rookie phenom's absence as an excuse, but it was clear his presence was missed.

“We didn’t have that extra oomph,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said after the loss. “Obviously, the omission of Joel Embiid clearly is impactful, but that’s the challenge. We just didn’t have it tonight.”

Embiid and his 19.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game will be back in the lineup against the Bucks.

2. Freak of nature
The Sixers won't be the only squad with a star in the making on the court Monday afternoon.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has shown plenty of potential since he was selected by the Bucks 15th overall in the 2013 draft (Anthony Bennett, who was recently released by the Brooklyn Nets, was taken No. 1 overall that year, for those of you keeping track at home). But the man known as "The Greek Freak" has taken his game to new heights this season.

Antetokounmpo is averaging 23.4 points on 53.5 percent shooting in addition to 8.8 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.8 steals per game this season - all career highs. He's also coming off a 33-point, eight-rebound and six-assist performance in the Bucks' 111-98 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday.

With Antetokounmpo playing point guard full time now and the Bucks' starting five boasting players all above 6-foot-7, it's hard to determine how the Sixers will match up on defense. Whatever the plan is to slow down "The Greek Freak," it will have to be a total team effort.

3. Protect the paint
All of that size and athleticism for the Bucks is a big reason they attack the rim so much. Milwaukee is tied with Oklahoma City for the league lead in points in the paint with 50.6 per game.

The Sixers were dominated on the low block for 54 points by the Wizards on Saturday with Embiid out. For the season, they rank 14th in the league in points in the paint allowed at 42.3 a night.

One thing that might help the Sixers is their shot blocking. They swat 5.6 shots a game (sixth in the NBA), which could deter some of those romps to the rim by the Bucks.

4. Injuries
T.J. McConnell (right wrist), Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Khris Middleton (hamstring) is out for the Bucks.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost 12 of their last 14 games to the Bucks.

• Ersan Ilyasova spent the first seven seasons of his NBA career with the Bucks (see story on his return to Milwaukee). This will mark the fourth time he has faced his former team.

• Jabari Parker, selected No. 2 overall in the 2014 NBA draft right before Embiid, has emerged this season with 20.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.