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The Riddle, Wrapped Inside a Mystery that is Royce O'Neale - Feb 14, 2019

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By Adam Bushman
Royce O'Neale (198-SF-93, college: Baylor)< paid many dues throughout his journey to the NBA.

Splitting his collegiate eligibility between the University of Denver and the University of Baylor, O'Neale did his best to prepare for the NBA draft.

He would spend the 2015 draft night waiting for his name to be called, only to end the night disappointed with his name uncalled. Spending the next two years in Europe playing professionally, he worked to hone the skills necessary for him to succeed in the NBA.

Year 1
He finally signed a non-guaranteed, three year contract with the Utah Jazz after impressing the front office and coaching staff during the 2017-18 training camp.

Royce only saw the floor in six of Utah's first 15 games that season, playing an average of just 5.4 minutes. It was clear he had work to do and improvements to make...and that he did.

O'Neale would play in 65 of the next 68 games, averaging just over 17 minutes per game.

His skills began to reveal themselves.

Royce was an elite rebounding wing, snagging over 11% of all available rebounds while he was on the floor. He could shoot from the outside, launching 118 threes his rookie year and making nearly 36%.

His best skill was defense, recording a 1.7 Defensive Box Plus-Minus (7th among qualified rookies) and a 1.97 Defensive Real Plus-Minus (a top 50 mark for the entire NBA).

Royce would go onto improve both his shooting and defensive numbers in the playoffs, matching up against the league's best in Paul George, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden.

Year 2
The Utah Jazz were quick to pick up Royce O'Neale's option and guarantee his salary for the 2018-19 season. They would not be disappointed.

After a slow start to the season, Royce O'Neale flipped the switch at the quarter mark of the season. Over his last 35 games, O'Neale has been playing 20+ minutes, taking 2.4 threes a game, making 47% of his threes, and scoring nearly six points a game.

His defense has continued to take strides. He improved both his BLK% and STL% from his rookie year, and his Defensive Box Plus-Minus has drastically risen. He's already matched the offensive win shares from his rookie year with nearly a third of the season left to play.

Two consecutive, stellar seasons to start the career of an undrafted NBA player got us thinking. How good can Royce O'Neale be?

Royce O'Neale Player Comps
We set out to find comparisons for Royce in NBA history. We designed our criteria to best represent the unique skills and profile of O'Neale.

Comps had to measure between 6'5' and 6'8'; they were required to shoot better than 38% from 3; their usage had to be under 13%; and their Defensive Box Plus-Minus had to be over 1.5.

The results were astounding. No one in NBA history had put together a start to their career similar to Royce O'Neale. This was the first sign as to how unique a player he truly is.

Unsatisfied, we loosened the criteria. The 3P% threshold dropped to 35%; usage raised to include up to 18% of possessions; Defensive Box Plus-Minus dropped to 1.0; and games played during the first two years of above 50 sharpened the results.

Only seven players in NBA history fit the criteria specifically designed for Royce. They are: Daniel Theis (active), Kawhi Leonard (active), Nicolas Batum (active), James SIngleton (retired), Scott Burrell (retired), and Shane Battier (retired).

In order to project the future career of one Royce O'Neale, we took the most interesting comps from this list, those being Leonard, Batum, and Battier.

How Good Can Royce O'Neale Be?

Of these three comparisons, the most outlandish is Kawhi Leonard. Regardless, O'Neale can match several of the things Leonard does/did well: 3 point shooting, rebounding, and defense.

The most likely comparison has to be Shane Battier. Battier's box stats should be easily attainable over an entire career. The advanced numbers a slightly more daunting (particularly in offensive efficiency) but Royce has a good chance to sustain a mix of his own stats and those of Shane's over the length of his career.

The comparison to Nicolas Batum, at least offensively, is probably the best case scenario for O'Neale. Nic is a natural scorer and has offensive skills Royce may never develop. However, Batum's box score production may very well be attainable, and some of the advanced stats fall perfectly in line with Royce's current abilities.

O'Neale's Career Trajectory
Assuming good health throughout his career, Royce should have an above average career length. His defensive abilities and long range shooting improvement is the prototypical 3-and-D wing that's, at worst, a career 'gun for hire'.

If we use PTS/36 of Battier/Batum, the 3P% of Battier/Batum/Leonard, the 3PArate of Battier/Batum, the FTArate of Battier/Batum, the USG% of Battier/Batum, the TRB% of Battier/Batum/Leonard, the DBPM of Battier/Batum/Leonard, and the WS/48 of Battier/Batum, we'd settle on the below mix of career stats for O'Neale.

11.8 PTS/36 - 37.5% 3PT - 0.470 3PArate - 0.230 FTArate

15.4% USG - 10.0 TRB% - 1.8 DBPM - 0.115 WS/48

This would be incredible production from a truly unique skill set and usage combination. Despite the uniqueness of this profile, the statistical thresholds above seem well within the possibility for a full length career based on what we've seen from O'Neale thus far.

The Utah Jazz brass and fans alike would be ecstatic for a several year career of production like this. We can see Royce being a key role player for the Jazz throughout many seasons and during many future playoff runs.

Could O'Neale be this Utah Jazz's iteration of the famous Bryon Russell for the late 90's Utah Jazz? By our estimation, it's entire possible.

While we may have identified a plausible career outline for Royce O'Neale, one thing is made clear by his path to the NBA. He has constantly beat the odds and outperformed expectations.

Can he continue such a feat? We can't wait to find out!


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