The Houston Rockets’ Daryl Morey is quite possibly the most unique GM in sports. He attended Northwestern University where he received his bachelor’s degree in computer science with an emphasis in statistics and then went on to the MIT Sloan Business School to get his MBA in business management.
He obviously has a non-basketball (and for the NBA, that means non-traditional) background and that in turn provides a different perspective on scouting and drafting athletes.
A recent example of that was this year’s 16th overall pick, Royce White.
White, an exceptionally talented player by all accounts, suffers from debilitating Anxiety Disorder, compounded by a fear of flying. This known fact took a tremendous toll on his draft stock, as many league executives feared that he wouldn’t be able to handle the stress of flying across the U.S. on a regular basis during the season.
Enter Morey. Recognizing White as a tremendous talent for his passing skills, physicality and high motor, he used the Rockets 2nd pick to take him at number 16.
Given his stats-heavy background, it’s understandable that Morey would be dismissive of worries about anxiety and off-court distractions if it meant taking someone who statistically, probably could have gone in the first 10 picks at pick number 16.
The risk/reward factor is high with White, but from the strides we’ve seen him make during this off-season coupled with his incredible demeanor, it looks as though he could be the steal of the draft.
During summer league play, White had one of the most well rounded stat-lines. Of the top 32 rebounders (White was 18th, averaging 7.2 a game), he was the only one with more than 3 assists per game.
If you watch some of his performances from college you notice that his assists don’t just come off of feeding players to the outside of the paint, rather, he passes with the instinct and court vision of a guard. Factor in his more-than-effective handle and you start to recognize that the 6’8, 270 lb. forward is a very special player indeed.
Another bright spot for Rockets fans is White’s general attitude.
In Grantland’s excellent “Hockumentary” on the subject of his anxiety, he makes it known that he could have concealed his condition and improved his own chances of being selected with a high-draft pick, but he wanted to represent those living with anxiety disorder in a way that they would know it’s possible to do the things you want and live the life you’d like to live, in spite of the condition.
Most players probably would have kept the condition quiet, been picked higher (meaning they would receive a larger rookie contract) and then dealt with the issue after the fact. So this is a pretty noble decision from a player who seems to have his head set squarely on his shoulders. Everyone knows how rare that can be in young talented athletes.
Yes, White is a unique individual with a unique playing style and unique needs, but non-traditional doesn’t mean bad.
Just ask Daryl Morey.