Trade Breakdown: Royce O’Neale on Nets

This is part five of our series, which breaks down the top trades of the 2022 off-season. As opposed to giving grades, this series will explore why The teams were motivated to make the moves. Let’s dive into a deal just before free agency opens between the nets and jazz


In a deal lost amid other major NBA news — viz Kevin Durant Request a trade from Brooklyn – the Nets have been acquired Royce O’Neale from the jazz in exchange for either the nets‘, Rockets’ or Sixers’ 2023 first round election (whichever is least favorable).

The Nets used a $11.3 million traded player waiver to pick up O’Neale’s salary without having to pay anything back.

The perspective of the networks:

Why would the Nets give up a first-round pick for a player who’s averaged less than seven points per game (6.9 PPG) since becoming a full-time starter three years ago?

While it’s true that O’Neale isn’t a great scorer, he brings many other qualities that make him an attractive role player for a team trying to win. He scores very efficiently when making shots (which admittedly is quite rare) by placing a .446/.384/.803 slash line over the last one three seasonsgood for a 59.6% true shooting percentage.

He generally makes good decisions when he’s on the ball and has posted an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.5 to 1 for the last three years, well above average for a forward, and he’s always ready to throw that extra pass for a better one see to do. O’Neale also finds creative ways to be effective on offense, like setting unexpected, bone-crushing backscreens and slipping to the edge for layups.

O’Neale is a solid rebounder, pulling down 5.7 boards in 30.6mpg over the same period. He also has an uncanny talent for being in the right place at the right time, which doesn’t show up in stats but is noticeable if you specifically track a player’s movements.

Much of O’Neale’s value to jazz lay in his willingness to do the dirty work. He was frequently tasked with defending the opposing team’s best winger and while his results in this area have been mixed, it’s hard not to admire his determination.

An extremely long-lived player since 2018, O’Neale has missed just seven games overall over the past four seasons, which must have been an attractive attribute for the Nets given all the games their key players have missed in recent years. He also has an appropriate contract, earning $9.2 million in 2022/23 with his $9.5 million salary for 23/24 partially guaranteed for $2.5 million.

The 29-year-old’s NBA success is a testament to his confidence – O’Neale knows exactly who he is as a player and he doesn’t try to do things he has said he is not capable of Brian Lewis of the New York Post a few weeks ago.

“(I help) as best I can.” he said. “Just try to be the guy I did and not someone I’m not. But I know what got me here and what will keep me here, so I’m just learning how I can and doing what I have to do, offensively and defensively.

That said, of all the trades made this offseason, I found this one to be the most confusing, at least from Brooklyn’s perspective.

Watching O’Neale get roasted repeatedly Jalen Brunson in Utah’s first-round loss to Dallas showed that his defense has weakened a bit. It’s also not as if O’Neale was ever a lockdown defender. He’s an undersized forward at 6’4″ and not the fastest player in the NBA, but he makes good use of his length (6’9″ wingspan) and strength (226 pounds) to do his best to deter opponents.

What he lacked in physical qualities, O’Neale always made up for in determined effort and tenacity. He rarely had much help on the touchline as Utah’s defense has always been anchored by the interior presence of the three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.

What makes this deal particularly confusing to me is that the Nets already had a better all-around player Bruce Brown and reportedly didn’t even make him a freehand offer — he joined the Nuggets over the taxpayer mid-level exemption. O’Neale, on the other hand, is older than Brown and will make more money than him over the next few seasons, although Brown’s ’23/24 deal is fully guaranteed and O’Neale’s is not.

While O’Neale is a much more proven marksman than Brown and has more experience playing the front two, Brown is more athletic with a strong, stocky build, so it’s not like he’s a liability if he has an or defended two positions – He did it a lot last season.

Maybe the Nets like O’Neale’s veteran presence and think he can help reverse the culture of the team, which is general manager Sean Marks said would be a focus for the future. You must surely have been drawn to his playoff experience, even if the Jazz didn’t advance past the second round during O’Neale’s tenure.

I still believe O’Neale is a solid player with a fair contract with bounce-back potential, and a likely late first-round pick in 2023 does nothing in the present for a team trying to win the championship to win, so purely in that sense, it’s an easily digestible win-now move. I’m just not sure if a player who had a bad season in the area he built his reputation (defense) on was a worthwhile game with that advantage – we’ll see how it goes in the out next season.

On the other hand, I liked the Nets’ free agency actions to accept fliers TJ Warren and Edmond Sumner, who both missed all of last season while recovering from injuries but are reportedly perfectly healthy. I also like the collection of young players the Nets have assembled with their recent draft picks, and Marks and the front office have consistently found talent in the rough, so maybe O’Neale will be another even if the circumstances are very different are .

The perspective of jazz:

Utah’s reasoning for the move was much easier to understand.

Plain and simple, jazz had reached its peak. Last year’s club disappointed on many levels. Utah was still a good team, don’t get me wrong — making the playoffs every season is no easy feat, no matter how some try to downplay it.

But the writing was on the wall. Being in luxury tax with no draft capital and no real young players to build around sans Donovan Mitchell (who is on a max-pay contract and has his share of errors) made the Jazz’s roster construction untenable.

You can only rewind things so many times before everyone notices your window is closed. Perhaps that happened in 2021, when the Jazz posted an NBA-best 52-20 regular-season record and only fell to the Clippers in the second round of the playoffs after squandering a 2-0 lead and after Kawhi Leonard ripped his ACL in Game 4 of the series (they also gambled away a 22-point halftime lead in Game 6, the clincher of the series).

That deflationary streak loss was detrimental to the Jazz in a number of ways, which continued into last season when they imploded late in games by squandering several big leads in the fourth quarter. They had one of the best net ratings in the league – third overall – despite their solid but unspectacular 49-33 record, and when they rolled they were really good. But there was never a sense that things would change after a mid-season slump, which unfortunately was caused at least in part by the absence of COVID-19.

Which brings us back to O’Neale’s swap for a 2023 first-rounder. Change was inevitable for jazz. O’Neale, who was dealt, happened to be the first domino to fall.

NBA teams are always looking for “3-and-D” players who don’t need the ball to be effective to complement star players. O’Neale fits into this mold if he plays well.

president Danny Aige is a notoriously difficult negotiator, but Utah’s asking price for O’Neale was obviously any kind of first-round pick, maybe for 2023, maybe not, and Brooklyn met that asking price. Gaining a decent draft asset for a player coming off a bad season defensively is definitely a good return for the Jazz.

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