The Houston Rockets selected Royce White with the No. 16 pick in the 2012 draft.
He spent a year with the Rockets while anxiety issues kept him from being with the team and was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, who cut him before this season began. At this point, it appears to be a huge longshot White will ever play in the NBA.
Since 1972, just five other players have been drafted that high without playing in the NBA:
- Nerlens Noel (No. 6 in 2013 by 76ers)
- Lucas Nogueira (No. 16 in 2013 by Hawks)
- Fran Vasquez (No. 11 in 2005 by Magic)
- Frederic Weis (No. 15 in 1999 by Knicks)
- Len Bias (No. 2 in 1986 by Celtics)
Noel will obviously get on the court, perhaps as early as this season. Nogueira has plenty of time to come stateside.
That leaves White in rare, though not quite unprecedented, company as Rockets general manager Daryl Morey suggests.
“I take some sort of pride that you could argue that Royce White is the worst first-round pick ever. He’s the only one that never played a minute in the NBA that wasn’t just a foreign guy staying in Europe. It just shows we swing for the fence,” Morey quipped.
White isn’t the worst first-round pick ever, and Morey doesn’t believe that.
Analytically inclined people like Morey are process-oriented, not result-oriented. Morey has sound reasons for drafting White, whose basketball talent dictated he should have gone much higher in the draft. Concerns about his anxiety issues rightly pushed him down draft boards, but the reward outweighed the risk where Morey selected him.
That logic matters more to Morey than whether White actually panned out as an NBA player. Calculated risks aren’t bad moves if the calculations were correct, regardless of how the hand unfolds.
If Morey just means based on results, Bias, who died from cocaine overdose days after the draft, was a worse pick by that standard. After all, he was drafted 14 spots higher than White.
But it seems a little cold to debate whether a player who died or a player who couldn’t overcome his anxiety issues was the worst first-round pick of all time, which leads to my final and most-significant point.
Isn’t it a little insensitive for Morey to publicly chastise a person whose mental state has caused himself great distress? White didn’t work out in the NBA, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve compassion.
It’s one thing to discuss how and why White didn’t make the NBA, but it’s another thing to single him out as “the worst first-round pick ever” when the standard used to select him doesn’t even put him at the bottom of the list. This just feels like unfairly piling on.