That June, the team drafted Jeremy Lamb, Terrence Jones and Royce White. All three have caught league headlines for different reasons. Let’s catch up with all of the so-called sophomores and see what a surprisingly enlightening path they create through the riff-raff of basketball.
Originally infamous for his inclusion in 2012’s James Harden trade—his very name was something of a punchline for those looking to highlight the penny-pinching errors of the Oklahoma City Thunder—Lamb is now thriving as a microwave man for a title contender.
Averaging 9.8 points per game on 49 percent shooting, the second-year wing man from the University of Connecticut is paying serious dividends for his team. His shooting—primarily his 41 percent mark from beyond the arc—has been a valuable floor-spreading weapon that the Thunder have granted an unexpected level of gravity, as they often use him in lineups down the stretch of big games.
Lamb has rewarded his team’s confidence in him—his proficiency hasn't taken a dip in the clutch. If he can maintain such a crucial shooting stroke, it just may be the straw that breaks the Western Conference’s back—or even the Miami Heat's. Lamb’s arrival as a key role-player for a team on the verge could be just the needle to change the the whole championship haystack.
Much has been made of the emergence of Jones. Recently inserted into the Rockets’ starting lineup, his strong all-around game fits almost perfectly into what the team is doing—his ability to shoot the three is especially useful in their system—and his effectiveness has also made the trading of Omer Asik even more certain, as Jones is a more a natural fit next to Dwight Howard.
Whether the still-young Jones can be what Houston needs him to be come playoff time is a different story. On one of the Western Conference’s less experienced contenders for a Finals berth, Jones is the youngest starter.
His lack of savvy showed in the Rockets’ last losing matchup against the Portland Trailblazers, in which Jones was given the tall task of guarding Lamarcus Aldridge.
Aldridge had his way with Jones, scoring 31 points on 12 of 22 shooting and gathering a whopping 25 rebounds over him.
The learning curve of Jones (the development of his half-court defense being especially paramount) might very well be the deciding factor in how close the Rockets can come to reaching their monstrous expectations. Like Lamb with the Thunder, Jones has played himself into a place of sudden relevance and potentially grave responsibility.
White has become an unlikely kind of basketball icon. No longer in the league after his much-publicized kerfuffle with the Rockets saw him traded to and waived by the Philadelphia 76ers, White is not entirely concerned with gaining traction as a career basketball player. He wants to be a change-maker in the field of mental health.
Many teams passed over the troubled 22-year-old in the draft for his history of severe panic attacks and unwillingness to travel by air—despite his extraordinary skills as a passer, off-the-charts basketball IQ and undeniably appropriate NBA body.
Once with the Rockets, White demanded that he have unparalleled access to professional psychologists, given the privilege to skip games when he was too anxiety-stricken and granted his own traveling bus to avoid the planes that ratchet his mental attacks up so highly. The struggles between White and GM Daryl Morey amounted to him never joining his team for a game.
In interviews, White has shown how these seemingly inane difficulties are in fact ideologically loaded. He espouses a desire to not only change the culture of professional sports but culture at large as well. He suggests, among other things, that the levels of stress experienced by normal people is near epidemic. He uses this perspective to help frame his calls for more therapeutic attention in the exemplary jock culture that is the NBA.
Whether White’s potential as a player can supersede the perceived baggage he brings to the table remains to be seen. He remains in the public eye despite not having a place in the NBA, and he speaks optimistically about a return to the league and even more so about his chances at changing society off the court.
Unless Lamb or Jones hit a playoff shot of Robert Horry-like proportions, it looks like White will be the most talked-about and remembered member of his Rockets draft class—without ever stepping onto the floor for a professional regular season game.