LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 15: Royce White #30 of the Iowa State Cyclones dunks in the second half against the Connecticut Huskies during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KFC YUM! Center on March 15, 2012 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Cyclone fans had a lot of questions a year ago at this time with how the "Fred Hoiberg Transfer Experiment" would pan out. Royce White was the headliner for the infusion of talent from a group of D1 transfers.
It was around that time that fellow transfer Chris Babb was asked about Royce and quoted as saying, "You know the guy from the commercials, the most interesting man in the world? That's Royce." At the time I was led to believe that Babb's remark was solely about Royce's personality, his love for music, his entrepreneurial interests, his life as a father-all off the court attributes.
However, we would soon find that Royce's on the court game was nearly an even match for his interesting personality.
It isn't often that you see a 6'7" 270 pound man that can bench 185 pounds for 28 consecutive reps move with the athleticism and agility that Royce does on the court. It isn't even often you can see a man of that size successfully dribble down the court, under pressure, and under control in the way that Royce does. A point guard in a power forward's body with a post game to boot.
Everyone always wants to find the previous NBA comparison for the new draftees but with Royce, everyone is struggling. Physically, he's a less athletic LeBron James but maybe stronger.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for Royce's success in his one year playing in Ames outside of his own talent and basketball IQ is how Fred Hoiberg deployed him on the court. Royce is an outside the box player that will likely need an outside the box coach to utilize him to his strengths.
The league is all about creating space, finding mismatches and exploiting them. Rinse. Repeat. That is Royce White's game. With the ball in his hands on the perimeter there are few posts that can stay in front of him and few forwards that can handle his brute strength on the block. The best thing going for Royce is the fact that he is an incredibly unselfish player, so he will take full advantage of those mismatches..
If he's on the block and there is a double team, he'll find the cutter. When he attacks from the perimeter, he can dump it off to a teammate at the rim or kick out for an open three. Of course, when there is no double team on the block, the spacing is right, and the lane is clear, he can get his own shot.
Here's more on how Royce can be used in isolation, on ball screens, and with the dribble handoff that I wrote in January, "Isolating Royce White".
The above is also of interest because of how Royce may be guarded due to his struggles with his jump shot. His jump shot and subsequent poor free throw shooting are the most evident holes in his game. While they shouldn't be diminished because they do exist, Royce wouldn't be the first effective player in the NBA to not be a knockdown shooter and his free throw shooting seem to improve greatly at the end of the season.
Defensively, I think Royce will have to guard true posts in the NBA. I don't think he has the lateral quickness to be able to handle an NBA small forward night in and night out. That leaves his height as a bit of a liability but his strength does compensate for that..
For much of his time at Iowa State Royce almost looked like a defensive liability and would miss rotations or rotate very late. How much of that had to do with his ability, understanding, or conditioning and how much had to do with avoiding foul trouble to stay on the floor as the most important player on the team? Hard to say for certain, but my opinion is that while Royce's offensive game may more resemble and be categorized as a small forward, on the defensive end I think he's going to have to guard a post player.
For almost any draftee, fit with their new team, organization, and coaches is almost as paramount in their success as their own talents and mentality. With Royce White that seems to be amplified even more.
Because of Royce's evident versatility that does give him one advantage to being able to fit with multiple different teams and their rosters. In my opinion, he would definitely need to be paired with a strong post presence that would fill the role of primary post defender and be a bit of a garbage man as opposed to needing the ball with his back to the basket. Put Royce with a point guard that is a creator but can also play off the ball and spot up. Sprinkle in a few shooters and you're set to maximize Royce on the court.
It took less than two years in Ames and just one full season playing for Iowa State for Royce to win over the crowd. We were wowed by his on the court versatility and excellence but we love him for his off the court improvements and his gratitude toward Ames and the Cyclone supporters as he bounced back from previous struggles.
Whether or not he is the most interesting man in the world is up for debate, but you cannot find another in this draft with a more interesting persona and style of play.
Good luck, Royce, and enjoy the ride, Rockets fans.