Utah Jazz: Royce O’Neale proving worthy of extended minutes

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 30: Royce O'Neale #23 of the Utah Jazz looks on during their game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Vivint Smart Home Arena on December 30, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 30: Royce O'Neale #23 of the Utah Jazz looks on during their game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Vivint Smart Home Arena on December 30, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images) /
facebooktwitterreddit

Considering his solid play of late, it’s becoming more and more clear that Royce O’Neale deserves additional playing time for the Utah Jazz.

Just before the start of the 2017-18 season, the Utah Jazz were faced with a tough decision – cut recently signed guard Royce O’Neale or cut Weber State product and fan favorite Joel Bolomboy. Both had shown plenty of promise and had strong arguments for being worthy of remaining with the Jazz. However, at the end of the day, Dennis Lindsey and the Utah front office made the hard choice and parted ways with Bolomboy while retaining O’Neale.

It was a tough pill for fans to swallow, especially considering how much fun Bolomboy had become to watch as well as the local ties he had. Not only that, but aside from a few nice showings in the preseason, O’Neale was basically an unknown.

However, at the season’s midway point, I think it’s safe to say that few, if any, are now bemoaning Lindsey’s tough call to hold on to Royce. Although he hasn’t played overwhelming minutes, he’s been absolutely solid when he’s been on the floor. His numbers don’t necessarily jump out at you due to his limited playing time, but his per-36 stats are impressive as they’ve featured him stuffing the stat sheet with 11.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.3 steals.

And in Utah’s recent win over the Washington Wizards, he showed exactly just how exceptional he can be if given extended opportunities. In 14 minutes, O’Neale put up 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting and did so many things that didn’t appear in the box score such as play incredible defense, spark the team’s energy and hustle constantly.

On top of all that, albeit in somewhat of a small sample size, O’Neale has the team’s highest net rating of 17.4 thanks to an awesome defensive rating of 94 and offensive rating of 111.4. In other words, although O’Neale is far from experienced and could benefit from becoming more efficient offensively, he’s most definitely been a positive on both ends of the floor whenever he’s seen action.

And that’s completely opposite from the guy who’s principally beaten him out in the rotation – Alec Burks. Despite a few nice games this season, Burks has apparently reverted back to his woeful ways of old as in his last eight games, he’s put up just five points on 32.6 percent shooting from the field and 12.5 percent from deep.

Not only that, but while O’Neale has been reliable on both ends, Burks has largely been a liability. If his shot isn’t falling (which is too often the norm) he’s seldom adding much else. His decision making is commonly head-scratching and his defense is typically lackluster. As much as the Jazz may want to give Burks playing time to showcase him for a potential trade, it seems each time he hits the floor he only lessens his value.

With that being the case, if Utah truly wants to be successful and put their best-performing players on the court, it’s time they make a swap in the rotation and start to give Royce O’Neale more playing time. He still has plenty to improve, which is quite understandable considering that it’s his first year in the NBA, but he appears to be doing so at an alarming rate and has already become more dependable than Burks.

Next: Utah Jazz: Are playoff hopes still realistic?

O’Neale is on an essentially dirt cheap contract for the next two years and the Jazz should definitely look to develop him so that they can maximize his surprising talent during that time. If he’s given opportunity, especially in a bit of a transition year like this one anyway, he could very well blossom into a solid and consistent piece of Utah’s rotation night in and night out.

No matter how you look at it, there’s essentially no questioning that it’s time for Royce O’Neale to be rewarded with an uptick in minutes.