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Can Miye Oni be the next Royce O’Neale?

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The second-round pick impressed in preseason game one

NBA: Utah Jazz-Media Day Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Since we’re still in preseason speculation is still effectively all we can muster up on how the chips will ultimately fall come late October until June in the NBA season. We do get hints, however, and right now Jazz fans might be seeing a good player emerging from the metaphorical darkness of the second round in rookie Miye Oni.

The 22-year old out of Yale has impressed plenty of people already with his two-way play. His defense in particular has coaches and fans impressed with his versatility. In Utah’s preseason opener against the Adelaide 36ers, Oni’s main assignment when on the floor was Adelaide’s 5-foot-10 Jerome Randle, a tough assignment for a 6-foot-6 guard. But Oni fared well in the matchup and helped hold Randle to 18 points on 15 shot attempts.

“He’s capable of defending multiple positions,” Quin Snyder said of Oni after the preseason game, “and that takes some work to be able to guard quick guards but it’s a point of emphasis for him.”

The comparisons to a diamond-in-the-rough player on the Jazz, undrafted former Baylor Bear star, Royce O’Neale, are already pouring in and they aren’t misplaced. Both were lauded in their early days with Utah for defense. Playing good defense got O’Neale on the floor (and admittedly some necessity of circumstance) and Snyder said the same will get Oni and other rookies on the floor this season.

Snyder also emphasized keeping things simple for the young shooting guard, which is something the team likely succeeded in doing with O’Neale in his rookie season back in 2017-18. As a rookie, O’Neale eased his way into the rotation and gradually earned the confidence of Snyder. That culminated in O’Neale starting five second-round playoff games with the responsibility of guarding that year’s MVP, James Harden.

Offensively, Oni likely won’t contribute much. His summer league numbers on offense weren’t terribly impressive, averaging 8.6 points in seven games and shooting 37.5 percent from the field. His debut preseason game, Oni remedied that slightly by shooting 4-of-7 for nine points and making 1-of-3 from deep. He also had this solid alley-oop dunk.

The beauty of Oni’s current position is that he doesn’t have to produce on offense. O’Neale never really has for Utah outside of a few outlier games. He’s just pulled his weight so as to not turn offense into a 4-on-5 affair. And though Oni is no worldbeater on offense, he shows plenty of potential to develop enough of an offensive game to stick with this Jazz roster and be a meaningful piece on a contending team.

Only one thing is going against Oni this season that will keep him from having an O’Neale-type rookie season (aside from us over-reactors all being spectacularly wrong about his potential): there’s not really much room in the rotation for Oni. Utah goes two or three deep at each position 1-3. Trying to fit a rookie into the mix of proven veterans outside of injury situations will choke out opportunities to prove himself.

Time will tell if Oni can become another rare second-round gem in the NBA. He may not crack the rotation unless (heaven forbid) one of Utah’s main guys goes down for significant time. But Snyder is likely glad to have a rookie who could be developed enough to be a borderline rotation player by November in his back pocket.