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.”

Give and Go: Which Sixer has been the most surprising?

Give and Go: Which Sixer has been the most surprising?

With the team at the All-Star break, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are CSNPhilly.com producer/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick.

In this edition, we pick the Sixers' most suprising player this season.

Haughton
Imagine an underdog beating the odds to not only make an NBA roster, but also play significant minutes. Now imagine him doing it twice.

T.J. McConnell continues to shatter any perceived limitations put on his career.

McConnell came into last season as an undrafted free agent that was expected to be cut. Instead he beat out several other point guard candidates to stick on the roster. Not only that, he managed to become a mainstay off the bench as he played in 81 games for the Sixers.

Fast forward to this season and McConnell was to be buried on the bench behind free-agent signees Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez.

It's a good thing nobody told the Pittsburgh native about those plans. He again played a solid reserve role off the bench while Bayless missed most of the season with an injured wrist. Then when Rodriguez sat out with an illness in a December matchup in Detroit, McConnell pounced on the opportunity. He just missed a triple-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in an 18-point win over the Pistons and the rest is history.

McConnell has been the team's starting point guard ever since. The numbers aren't going to wow anyone: 6.3 points, 6.1 assists and 3.0 rebounds in 24.9 minutes a game. However, he's a consistent contributor and a leader on an improved Sixers team.

Hudrick
T.J. McConnell. And it's not even close.

Before the season started, I projected McConnell to the D-League, considering him a solid emergency point guard. McConnell Wally Pipp'd his way into the starting lineup when Sergio Rodriguez was out with an illness. McConnell has flourished while Rodriguez has struggled.

Since becoming a starter, McConnell has averaged 8.9 points, eight assists and 1.7 steals in 31.4 minutes per game. He's averaging just two turnovers a game and also managed to hit two game-winning shots in that span. Most importantly, the Sixers are 14-11 when McConnell has started this season.

The most impressive personal stat for McConnell may be the 49 percent he's shot from the field over his last 24 games. McConnell never looked for his shot last season. He shot only out of desperation and his numbers reflected that. You can see his comfort level rising and his confidence in finishing around the rim.

McConnell is likely not the long-term solution at point guard for the Sixers, but I have to eat crow and say that at the very least, he's a solid NBA player.

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jayson Tatum lights up Virginia, Wake Forest

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jayson Tatum lights up Virginia, Wake Forest

We're have just a few weeks left in the college basketball regular season, so everyone is looking for a big win. Or in the case of a top prospect, a big performance to show all the scouts.

Let's take a look at whose stock rose and whose fell this week among eight top freshmen.

Jayson Tatum, forward, Duke (6-8/204)
America is finally seeing the Jayson Tatum that was highly touted coming into his one-and-done stint with the Blue Devils. The move to power forward has ignited his game and helped catapult Duke in its seven-game winning streak. His line Saturday against Wake Forest — 19 points on 6 for 11 shooting, 3 of 5 from three, and seven rebounds — was pretty good and he made some clutch free throws to clinch the win.

But can we talk about his Virginia game? Seriously, this may be the gem of his college career. Tatum's Blue Devils were held to just 21 points (he had seven of those) by Virginia's stingy defense in the first half. So what does he do? Score 21 by himself in the second half to lead the Blue Devils past a top-15 team. He had 28 points on just 13 shots, making 6 of 7 from three while adding eight rebounds, a block and a steal. He had a 7-0 run by his lonesome that put Duke up for good. He's likely a three at the next level, but Tatum displayed all the tools to be an effective three while dominated at the four, a much-needed boost for the soon-to-be top-10 Blue Devils.

Lauri Markkanen, forward, Arizona (7-0/225)
The three-point shooting slump isn't quite done yet for the Finnish freshman, but at least he's found his scoring touch again. Markkanen had a pair of double-doubles in Wildcat wins this week over Washington St. and Washington, all while only making 1 of 6 from beyond the arc. He's now just 4 for 19 from three in his last five games, a slightly worrying stretch that has brought his three-point percentage down to 46.5 percent.

Still though, he didn't fail to produce in 68 minutes combined over a three-day span. First, he had 19 points and 11 rebounds vs. Washington St. in a 78-59 win, his first double-figure rebounding effort since his last game vs. the Cougars. He then came through with 26 points and 13 rebounds against Washington in a 76-68 win. He was able to hit some jumpers but also competed inside, making his way to the free-throw line nine times and making eight from the stripe. It's certainly encouraging after some lackluster showings over the last two weeks.

Markelle Fultz, guard, Washington (6-4/195)
After missing two games last week with a knee injury, Fultz came back fully healthy with a pair of nearly identical performances. On Thursday, the impressive freshman shot 7 for 16 from the field, 2 of 6 from three, and had 19 points to go with four assists during an 83-81 loss to Arizona State. Two days later, he shot, get this, 7 for 16 from the field, 2 of 6 from three, in the loss to Arizona. He did make to the charity stripe more often (make 10 of 15 from the free-throw line) and finished with 26 points and six assists.

In the defeat, Fultz still played 38 minutes and scored or assisted on over 55 percent of the Huskies' points. Sure, he had four turnovers, but when you have the ball in your hand as often as he does, it's bound to happen. It's a pretty good idea of what he'll be doing for a team that finds itself at the top of the lottery this year. He showed off every part of skill set — shooting, getting the rim, finishing, etc. — Saturday and nearly led the 9-18 Huskies to a win over the No. 5 team in the country.

Lonzo Ball, guard, UCLA (6-6/190)
Most players don't dominate a game while taking the fewest shots among his team's starters. Most players aren't Lonzo Ball. Ball messed around with a triple-double while taking just nine points Saturday night, coming up just short with 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the Bruins, who beat USC, 102-70.

Three teammates scored more points than Ball, but that's in part thanks to how well he spreads the ball and runs the offense. His maturity doesn't just come on offense. He's also solid on the defensive end, in part thanks to his 6-6 frame at point guard.

Malik Monk, guard, Kentucky (6-4/185)
Kentucky's catalyst keyed the Wildcats to two more wins this week as they extended their win streak to four. Monk was his normal volume shooting self in the two games against Tennessee and Georgia. He took a total of 31 shots, up from 30 over two games the week before. While he made just 10 of the 31 attempts, the formula seems to be working because the Wildcats keep winning.

He had 20 points with four threes and eight rebounds in a blowout win over Tennessee. The more impressive effort came with worse stats in the road victory against Georgia. He made just 3 of 11 but got to the free-throw line for 11 attempts and got it done for Kentucky in other ways, notably five assists and three steals. Monk has been labeled an offense-only guard, so the trio of steals are a welcome sight. How he'll defend ones and twos at the next level will be a real defining challenge for him.

Quick Hits
• Florida State lost consecutive games and forward Jonathan Isaac was relatively quiet, scoring 15 points on 14 shots over the two games. He had just three free throw attempts yet still reeled in 12 rebounds and had four blocks.

• Kansas' Josh Jackson provided 16 points on 14 shots Saturday, as the No. 3 Jayhawks defeated No. 4 Baylor. Jackson, by making his only attempt vs. the Bears, is up to 35.3 percent from three.

• NC State fired its coach this week, but that didn't stop Dennis Smith Jr. from being his normal self. In a pair of losses to ranked teams, Smith had 43 points, nine assists and seven rebounds combined.