Royce O’Neale’s basketball story is one of those that you love to hear about. Started out at a small college, transferred to a big college, went undrafted, played overseas, got his shot with an NBA team, shot it, and swished that sucker. It’s one of my favorite types of stories in the NBA. These guys that come from nothing, and still, even after high school or college, don’t have a great shot at making it in the league. But because of their work ethic and determination, they get there. Even though it’s not a straight path, through all the ups and downs, they get there.
This is what happened to Royce O’Neale. Given a shot by Dennis Lindsey and the Jazz in the summer of 2017, O’Neale knew this could be the break that he had been waiting for his whole life. O’Neale impressed Lindsey and other development scouts enough to earn a deal with the Jazz, and the rest is history.
After two seasons in the NBA, Royce O’Neale has made a name for himself. He made this name by just being a solid basketball player. By being a guy that can come in the game whenever you need him to and give you very solid production. He’s found a great niche in the Jazz roster that he fits perfectly, by being a reliable versatile defender and a guy that makes very little mistakes, especially for a young player.
So what’s next to come for Royce O’Neale? Before looking to the future, let’s at where he’s come from.
Royce O’Neale shined brightest last spring, in what was one of the few positives of a disappointing playoff series against the Houston Rockets. He dropped 17 points on 7-10 shooting in game two, a double-double 11 points and 11 rebounds in game four, and 18 points and 5 rebounds in game five. We saw a little burst from Royce O’Neale in the Houston series, and it just might have been worth suffering through those five games.
“He works his ass off”
That’s what teammate Joe Ingles had to say about Royce O’Neale in his exit interview this past April. Ingles also talked about well O’neale played in the Houston series last spring, and how good of player he can be.
Probably my favorite Royce O’Neale play was from his rookie season. Jazz were playing the Spurs on the road, where they have struggled mightily as a franchise. Royce made a heck of a play to tip a Patty Mills pass, flipped around and caught the ball off the dribble, got down the floor in two dribble and yammed it down with Manu Ginobli closing in.
The mini-flex at the end is the best part.
So what’s next? Where does the journey of Royce O’Neale go in 2019-2020?
This season is going to be a big one for Royce O’Neale. He’s on the final year of this 3yr-$4M that he signed in 2017. He will be a restricted free agent next summer, which ultimately means that the ball is in the Jazz’s court. O’Neale will be working all year long for a juicy contract extension, and the opportunity to lock down being an NBA player for many more years.
What more does O’Neale need to prove to be worthy of a contract extenstion? He’s already proven that he can defend the best playmakers in the NBA. We saw it this spring when he helped hold James Harden in check (a much as one can) for several games.
Several times throughout the past two seasons, O’Neale was tasked with defending the best opposing players on the floor. When the Jazz went up against KD, Lebron, etc, it was Royce that was lucky enough to match up with them for the majority of the game. Royce takes these opportunities as challenges, and you can notice it when he steps on the court to defend.
Don’t expect Royce O’Neale the lockdown defender to go anywhere. He will stay pestering superstars on a nightly basis. What about offensively? What’s the ceiling for Royce O’Neale as a scorer? Through two seasons as an NBA player, he’s shown that he can be a reliable scorer when necessary. He has scored more than 15 points 12 times in his career, including 4 times in the playoffs. He shot 35 percent and 38 percent over his first two NBA seasons respectively, which is solid for a player that’s not necessarily considered a shooter. O’Neale shot 178 three-pointers in the 2018-19 season, compared to just 118 the year prior. If he can continue to increase volume towards the 200+ range, with maintaining or even increasing his 3P% to over 40, he will solidify himself as a very solid player in the “Three and D” realm. To me, this is where Royce O’Neale’s value has the highest ceiling. If he can continue to develop as a three-point shooter, and knock down open shots, he’s going to change games.
We know that Royce can defend, we know that he can slash, and we definitely know that he can dunk.
What we don’t know about O’Neale is where his ceiling is as a three-point shooter. There’s guys in the NBA that have made livings off of being tough defenders on one side of the floor, and knocking down threes on the other side. Look at guys like PJ Tucker, Danny Green, and Trevor Ariza who have been doing this in the NBA for years. Royce O’Neale can easily become one of those types of players.
Where will O’Neale fit in the picture of the 2019-2020 Utah Jazz? This might just determine if O’Neale is able to reach his ceiling or not, as usage and opportunity play a vital role in this. It’s unclear currently as to where O’Neale will fall in Quin Snyder’s rotations. Many thought Snyder would start O’Neale at the four spot along side Bogdanovic at the three. It looks like O’Neale will be battling with Jeff Green for a starting spot and/or playing time depending on how things shake out with the rotation. Royce started 16 games last season, and always played well when he was asked to step up.
All of these things will impact O’Neale this season, and will ultimately decide his fate as an NBA player. The journey of Royce O’Neale has been incredible up this to point. Where will it go this season, and beyond?