Years back Jermaine O’Neal piled points, boards, and All-Star nominations with the Indiana Pacers.
That Jermaine O’Neal died too soon.
Today O’Neal is a shell. The center is 34-years-old and entering his 18th NBA season. Since 2007 O’Neal has missed 290 of a possible 574 contests. It was no mystery why the Golden State Warriors only offered him a one-year, $2 million deal in June.
O’Neal has been battling injuries for what seems an eternity, but there were flashes of his old self with the Phoenix Suns last season. He averaged 8.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in a reserve role and turned heads in a February 27 game in San Antonio.
Off the bench O’Neal scored 22 points (shooting 8 for 14) and hauled in 13 boards (9 on the offensive glass) in 27 minutes facing the likes of Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. This was enough to convince the Warriors brass the journeyman was worth a flyer.
Thankfully O’Neal is healthy. He needs to be because Golden State is depending on his services in the immediate future. Festus Ezeli is out for several months after summer knee surgery, which leaves the veteran and Marreese Speights as the only frontcourt backups on the roster. Speights is undersized for a five, so the role behind Andrew Bogut is primarily left to O’Neal.
O’Neal’s explosive step is gone, but he’s adapted to contribute in less flashy ways. The former power forward still possesses a reliable midrange jumpshot, and he’s focused his attention on becoming an intimidating and hard-to-move low-post defender. O’Neal won’t demand shots like he used to, but he should be capable of bailing out the offense for very limited stretches.
Ideally O’Neal will survive the regular season to be a helpful rotation piece in a playoff run. This will require days off and a minutes-count, but as we saw with Bogut last season Mark Jackson will have no problems sticking to the plan through 82 games. At $2 million you could do a lot worse than 18 minutes on the floor per night from O’Neal.
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