Either Dennis Lindsey has a knack for finding diamonds in the rough or Quin Snyder has a knack for developing NBA talent. Or maybe it’s both. Either way, Royce O’Neale is the perfect example of both.
Following a good but not great college career at Denver and then Baylor, Royce O’Neale went undrafted in the 2015 NBA Draft. His first professional season was spent in Germany, his second was spent in Spain, and his third in Lithuania. He had a chance at an NBA roster in 2016 when he played for the Golden State Warriors summer league team, but didn’t make the cut.
Then the Utah Jazz gave him a shot in 2017.
Honestly, his summer league appearance with the Jazz was fairly uneventful as well. He definitely looked athletic, as I remember thinking he might be good enough to find an end of the bench spot somewhere. But I don’t remember thinking that the Jazz had just found a good role player.
In fact, what I remember was feeling bummed that he bumped Joel Bolomboy off the roster. And I recall people blaming the Dennis Lindsey-Baylor connection for the decision. Boy were both takes wrong.
Now you can look at his per game stats and think, jeez take it easy man. He’s only averaging 5.1 points per game over his career. And his advanced stats don’t scream statistical darling or bonafide starter either. But his production on the court can’t be denied. And I think he might be primed for a big time increase in his role for the 2019-2020 season.
Up to this point, he’s mostly played shooting guard and small forward for the Jazz. But Quin Snyder started to experiment again last season, particularly when injuries kept guys out. That meant Royce O’Neale (finally!) played some minutes at the power forward position, and I think he’s going to stay there.
Does he put the power in power forward? No. Is he your prototypical NBA 4? Not necessarily no. But he’s closer than you might think. At 6’6” and 226 pounds he’s the identical size as Jae Crowder. However, I think he’s got better athleticism to go with it. This allows him to be much more effective in transition and on defense. And I’m not the only one that believes that. Our very own Donovan Mitchell said that he believes O’Neale could be one of the best defenders in the NBA. Per Tony Jones, Donovan said the following:
As if the Jazz needed to get better defensively! But that’s not all that Royce can offer. He’s become a very reliable 3 point shooter as well, hitting on over 38% of his 3’s last season. Dennis Lindsey said he wanted to prioritize shooting in the off season. If Quin Snyder feels the same way, then O’Neale could see his role on this team take a big jump.
Royce has his limitations as well. He could be a great stretch 4 and defensive player, but he isn’t a playmaking 4. He doesn’t yet possess the ability to take his defender off the dribble and make the right decisions, having his fair share of turnovers in those situations. Fortunately for him and the Jazz, he won’t need to. With Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Joe Ingles, the Jazz aren’t in need of shot creators. What they’ll continue to need is shot makers and an elite defense.
Royce O’Neale is a great candidate to slide into the starting power forward spot left behind by Derrick Favors. Here’s how I could see the starting lineup looking:
- Mike Conley
- Donovan Mitchell
- Bojan Bogdanovic
- Royce O’Neale
- Rudy Gobert
This lets Joe Ingles decimate opposing benches, while still likely being in the closing lineup for the Jazz.
On a minimum contract, Royce O’Neale has already provided incredible value. That may grow even more if he’s the starting power forward for the Jazz. And every indication this summer is that he’s ready to go.