Which 2012 NBA Rookie Will Be the Most Surprising?

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterSeptember 11, 2012

TARRYTOWN, NY - AUGUST 21:  Royce White #30 of the Houston Rockets poses for a portrait during the 2012 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot at the MSG Training Center on August 21, 2012 in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

It wouldn't exactly be a surprise if a player taken in the 2012 NBA draft lottery turned out to be a star during his rookie season, now would it? After all, isn't that why the likes of Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal and Thomas Robinson were selected early—because they have the greatest potential to be standout contributors to a winning cause?

In a way, a successful debut season by Royce White wouldn't be much of a shock either. He was considered by many to be a top-10 talent coming out of Iowa State but fell to No. 16, where the Houston Rockets promptly snapped him up.

White's draft fall was hardly the furthest endured by any of his peers. Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones III had both been pegged as lottery locks before injury concerns sent them tumbling to the Boston Celtics at No. 21 and the Oklahoma City Thunder at No. 28, respectively.

Still, nobody would be taken aback if those two healed up and wrought havoc on the hardwood thereafter, as they were originally expected to.

For Royce White, there is no rehab for what ails him—generalized anxiety disorder—only a daily battle with his own mind in which he'll likely have to engage for the rest of his life. That makes his potential success story the unlikeliest of all.

Or, at least, as unlikely as that of a 6'8", 261-pound, multi-talented freight-train-of-a-forward can be.

White was a jack of all trades during his one and only season in Ames. He led the Cyclones in points (13.4), rebounds (9.3), assists (5.0), steals (1.2) and blocks (0.9) while registering a triple-double against Texas A&M and outplaying Kentucky's Anthony Davis head-to-head during the 2012 NCAA tournament.

But it's how Royce White ended up at Iowa State in the first place that makes his path to stardom that much more intriguing. A native of Minneapolis, White began his collegiate career at Minnesota but left Tubby Smith's program and dropped out of school after a slew of legal troubles, some of which he admitted guilt to and others about which he proclaims innocence.

White's basketball career seemed all but over until he realized what the Rockets front office ultimately figured out at the draft in late June—that, from a basketball standpoint, he has what it takes to shine at the next level. How many guys his size can dribble, pass, attack the basket, post up and generally facilitate an offense like he can?

Both are (or, rather should be) well aware, too, that White is still a work in progress. He can make good on the Anthony Mason and Boris Diaw comparisons but would first do well to cut down on his turnovers after averaging 3.8 giveaways per game in college and 3.2 during the Las Vegas Summer League.

Along with staying under control with the ball in his hands, White could stand to sharpen his shooting. He took jumpers only occasionally at Iowa State and shot an abysmal 49.8 percent from the free-throw line. Anxiety disorder or no, he'll be a liability if he can't convert from the charity stripe and won't be a true triple threat at power forward unless he can step out and shoot reliably.

White's conditioning was also of some concern in college, though that figures to improve as he continues to dedicate himself to the game full-time. Frankly, White still moves remarkably well despite being somewhat overweight.

To be sure, none of this necessarily suggests that he'll take the league by storm as a rookie. Rather, it's those factors outside of White's control—namely his new team and its current state of flux—that bode well for his dark-horse Rookie of the Year candidacy.

Which is to say, the Rockets are destined for a rebuilding year in 2012-13. GM Daryl Morey piled up assets in pursuit of either Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum, but in the end wound up with neither.

Instead, Morey signed two restricted free agents (Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik), brought aboard four rookies (White, Jeremy Lamb, Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas) and overstocked his roster with all manner of castoffs and bench-fillers.

Somewhere in that shuffle of players old and new will be minutes for Royce White. Seeing as how it was Kevin McHale who pushed to bring White to H-Town, it only figures that the head coach will be compelled to play his prized pickup, if only to prove to those who doubted him that he chose prudently.

For White, it'd be an opportunity to show up his own doubters and to reward the faith that McHale placed in him.

But mostly, it'd just be a chance for White to play, to strut his stuff as a professional, to show the world that he belongs in the conversation with the Anthony Davises and Michael Kidd-Gilchrists and Bradley Beals of the basketball world.

And furthermore, to establish himself as a legitimate stud around whom the Rockets might hope to build for the future.