Nets coach Jacque Vaughn joked that he needed to ask veteran forward Royce O’Neal out to dinner because he played so many minutes in the first-round half of the regular season.
Give him two steak dinners—and preferably both.
O’Neal’s minutes alone are a testament to how important the former Utah Jazz wing is on both ends of the floor. Nets go 19-7 under Vaughn Legitimize their status as NBA championship contenders.
O’Neal has emerged as one of the most reliable players on the Nets’ roster, with competition for every spot. He earned the starting spot at wing, while Joe Harris sat out with a sore foot and never returned — Harris, a longtime Brooklyn starter who is now Vaughn’s “first choice off the bench” — and O’Neal with the Kevin Durant starts alongside Kyrie Irving, along with Ben Simmons and Nick Claxton.
O’Neal won the job for two reasons, chief among them being his reliability.The veteran striker has remained healthy and available Harris continues to grapple with these issues He underwent two left ankle surgeries last season.
O’Neal’s scoring average hit a career high. He made 42.4 percent of his 3-pointers, the fifth-highest percentage among NBA-qualified players, taking at least 5.5 3-pointers per game. He’s also averaging a career-high 4.3 assists per game, and his sub-double-digit 9.5 points per game are his career highs.
Opponents also shot 1.9 percent lower on an average of 15 field goal attempts per game when guarded by the former Baylor Bears.
For reference, only Durant averaged more defensive shots per game with the Nets. Opponents shoot 4% less when guarded by superstar forwards, 6% less when guarded by starting center Claxton, 4% less when guarded by Markieff Morris, and 4% less when guarded by Harris The time is reduced by 2.6%, and Harris’ defensive ability has improved significantly this season.
And of course, with O’Neal’s two-way production, playing time has also been plentiful. He averaged a career-high 35 minutes per game and appeared in 31 of the Nets’ 33 games. Only Durant (32 games) has played more.
Durant’s 1,164 minutes played against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday ranked sixth in the NBA. O’Neal is 20th with 1,090 minutes after missing two games. Durant, O’Neal and Irving all averaged more than 35 minutes per game.
“Yeah, I should go ahead and apologize to him and take him out to dinner. That’s my responsibility, let him play too many minutes, but that’s because I like what he does,” Vaughn said two days before Christmas. Day said, noting that the Nets took three days off to play again after O’Neal missed his second game. “I think [the time off] Really allowed him to reload mentally and physically. Now you see the value he brings to us on both ends of the floor, so I definitely take the blame for what he did the first few weeks. “
As for the second steak dinner? Thanks to O’Neal’s performance, general manager Sean Marks suddenly looked like the smartest guy in the room, and he met the Utah Jazz’s asking price before another team swooped in.
There are so many off-season controversies – Mainly whether Durant will wear a Nets jersey this season –Some people are confused about the timing of the O’Neal trade. When Brooklyn played, the Jazz were clearly recalibrating their roster and positioning to trade for Donovan Mitchell.
This is the Nets, ostensibly in The fringe of trading Durant And detonated their own championship hopes by moving a valuable first-round pick into their trade exception to absorb O’Neal’s contract.
The Max never traded Durant, signing Edmond Sumner, TJ Warren, Morris and Yudai Watanabe — each of whom was integral to Brooklyn’s early success missing role — and added O’Neal to the lineup. Since Steve Nash took over as head coachThe Nets are now the hottest team in basketball.
O’Neal’s consistency is one reason, and it’s why both Mark and Vaughn owe O’Neill a delicious porterhouse.
Then again, O’Neal — whose contract runs through the 2023-24 season — should be able to afford to pay for this deal, and if he keeps playing like this, he’ll definitely get it.