Hey, the Sixers are 2-1 in the pre-season! A winning record! That doesn't mean anything close to anything, but it's a novel concept for a team whose regular season is surely going to start a losing one, and nearly as surely stay a losing one for the remainder of the year. The Sixers moved back over .500 in this exhibition stretch on Friday with a win over the Celtics at the lovely Bob Carpenter center in Newark, Delaware, where their new D-League affiliate team (the 87ers!) will eventually play its regular season home games.
The Sixer fans that tuned in to the game on Friday night likely did so for one reason that had nothing to do with the team winning or not--the chance to see enigmatic forward Royce White in action for the first time as a Philadelphia 76er (and for many of us, the first time period). The Sixers' new big man, picked up from Houston in an off-season trade, has long been promised to have All-Star-type potential, but fans have never seen it in a pro game, as his anxiety disorder (and accompanying fear of flying) and controversial battle against some NBA health policies have thusfar kept him from playing in the regular season.
Royce White did indeed play for the Sixers on Friday, however, and fans that saw him can now say with relative certainty that it's more than anxiety and machine-raging keeping Royce from stepping in and being an instant Rookie of the Year candidate. His Sixer debut was a heavily flawed one, one that shows how long he has to go to be a productive rotation player in the NBA, but one that did flash a little of the potential we've so long heard about that makes him so enticing as a prospect.
The most pronounced aspect of his debut performance was, of course, the fouling. Royce checked in with about six minutes to go in the first quarter, and by the 3:21 mark, he already had four fouls, picking up his fifth within a minute of checking in again in the third quarter. Some of the calls were kind of ticky-tack, but he's definitely a little careless with his screen setting on offense--he got called for two moving picks in that first quarter, and could have easily been whistled for one or two others--and occasionally too aggressive with his ball-stopping on defense.
Even more alarming than the fouling might have been Royce's shooting. A stretch four White is not, as his two jumper attempts--one open from the free throw-line, one from solidly beyond the arc--both went so long he nearly banked them in, while he also airballed one of his two free throws on the night. Royce's post moves do not seem particularly sophisticated at this point, either, so it might be a little tough for him to find ways to score in the half-court for this team.
The defense was also a little touch-and-go for White. In addition to the surfeit of fouls, Royce also had a little trouble negotiating the pick-and-roll on defense, over-committing on the ball-handler and failing to rotate back to his man, a particular issue when guarding Celtics big Kelly Olynyk, an excellent outside shooter. He does seem to have good hands on D, at least, as he was once able to make up for his poor defensive positioning by getting a hand on a cross-court pass to Olynyk, starting the fast break the other way.
And indeed, it seems like transition will be where White can really excel for this team. An excellent rebounder--White grabbed three in less than ten minutes, one a hard-fought board over Gerald Wallace--White also has the ball-handling skills to go length-of-the-court with it, as he did off a rebound in the first quarter. For someone whose conditioning has oft come in to question, he also looks to be in decently athletic shape, if still a little doughy, as he was able to drive baseline past Olynyk in the third quarter for a resounding dunk.
Ultimately, it was more bad than good with Royce White's debut effort, but it was nothing that we shouldn't have expected, and nothing that can't be improved. In his player profile on White for ESPN, hoops scribe Tom Haberstroh suggested that White should probably hang out in Delaware for the whole season with the 87ers, playing himself back into game shape and learning to cut out his more careless mistakes. That would certainly make sense, though given how little interest the Sixers seem to have in actually winning ballgames this year, it wouldn't be shocking to see them let Royce do the same on the pro squad.
Either way, Royce should certainly be one of the most interesting subplots to follow on the Sixers this year, as he hopefully learns how to play a more fundamental game that allows his considerable talent--which we only really saw a fraction of on Friday night, and will hopefully see further glimpses of tonight against the Nets--to shine through. The most important thing about his game on Friday was that he got on the court at all, and now it's up to Royce and the Sixers' staff to figure out how his presence can actually be a positive for this team.