Royce O’Neale is the type of player everybody wants on their team. He does all the dirty work, taking on the toughest defensive assignments, fighting for rebounds, and diving for loose balls. He’s an unselfish teammate, always willing to make the right pass, and constantly working to help out on defense. He’s friends with all of his teammates off the court. He’s the perfect role player, the ultimate glue guy.
- 7.0 points per game
- 6.8 rebounds per game
- 2.5 assists per game
- 38.5% 3-point percentage
- 59.9% true shooting percentage
- 31.6 minutes per game
Royce O’Neale played 71 games for the Utah Jazz last season and started every single one of them. Now that he’d become an official, no-doubt starter for the team, he had to prove he belonged. So what did he do? He had his best season yet. O’Neale recorded career-best marks in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, three-pointers made, true shooting, and just about everything else.
Coming into last season, there was a common worry about Utah’s ability as a team to rebound the ball. Starting Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale as your forwards doesn’t seem like a great recipe for grabbing boards, but Royce proved that worry to be unfounded. Among players 6’5” or below, O’Neale was 5th in rebounds per game. He was Utah’s second-leading rebounder and helped the Jazz rank first in rebounds per game.
The other major concern for the Jazz was their ability to defender perimeter players. The Jazz employ a lot of scorers and creators, but not a lot of defenders. Quin Snyder’s defense heavily relies on two things: Rudy Gobert to be a godly interior presence and Royce O’Neale to guard anybody who’s a threat with the ball in their hands. BBall Index’s Matchup Difficulty metric uses the NBA’s tracking data to calculate how much time players spend defending the most difficult assignments (determined by a combination of usage and offensive impact). There were only three players in the NBA last season who recorded a Matchup Difficulty of 100. Dillon Brooks, Luguentz Dort, and Royce O’Neale. O’Neale spent over 39% of his defensive possessions guarding the opposing team’s number one option, the most of any player in the NBA who played at least 300 minutes.
O’Neale doesn’t care who it is he has to guard; he just does it. Whether the opponent’s most dangerous player is 6’11” Giannis Antetokounmpo or 6’3” Stephen Curry, Royce O’Neale will take that assignment.
What to expect in the coming season
For the Jazz, O’Neale is valuable on offense and absolutely crucial on defense. Fans should expect Royce O’Neale to retain his starting role and be a major part of Coach Snyder’s nine-man rotation.
O’Neale’s counting stats will never blow you away. He won’t ever be one of the team’s top-scoring options, and he won’t be the guy that opposing coaches gameplan around. Instead, he’ll do all the little things that the team needs. He’ll guard Damian Lillard one night, then Kevin Durant the next. He’ll fight around the box-outs to grab tough rebounds. He’ll make the extra pass when the defense is scrambling to catch up, giving somebody a wide open three. In other words, you can expect Royce O’Neale to be an exceptional role player.
Goals and improvement areas
If I were able to sit down with Royce O’Neale and talk about his game, I’d probably spend half of the time scolding him for passing up open three-point shots. We’ve all done it. We’ve all sat at home yelling at Royce through our TVs that he needs to shoot the ball. That’s probably the easiest path to visible improvement in his game. O’Neale is an outstanding shooter in catch-and-shoot situations, but he is extremely selective. It’s a great quality to have a conservative shot selection, but when you’re a career 38% three-point shooter, at some point, you need to start attempting more than four per game. He doesn’t need to start taking step-backs and pull-ups off the dribble like Donovan Mitchell; he just needs to be more willing to shoot off the catch. Utah's offense would benefit greatly if he were to up his attempts to five or six three-pointers per game.
From being undrafted to leading the NBA’s top-seeded team in minutes, Royce O’Neale has fought his way to where he is now. I wouldn’t expect him to stop fighting any time soon. What should you expect from Royce O’Neale next season? Tough defense, smart offense, a whole lot of toughness, and plenty of laughs along the way.
Stats via NBA.com, Basketballreference.com, BBall-index.com