Royce O’Neale filled in for Utah Jazz sideline reporter Kristen Kenney to start the week. With a scrum of reporters around point guard Mike Conley after shootaround on Monday in Milwaukee, O’Neale grabbed a microphone and jumped into the fray.
“Who is a better shooter? Me, Royce O’Neale? Or Mike Conley?”
“Well, as of like three weeks ago, I would have said Royce,” Conley replied. “But three weeks ago I said you’d never beat me in a shooting drill again and you haven’t.”
“I think that’s because I’m trying to give you confidence,” O’Neale said. “Is it working?”
As it turns out, though, O’Neale’s teammates are trying to give the third-year wing some confidence, too. O’Neale currently sits fifth in the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage, connecting on 47.9 percent of his attempts.
But O’Neale had only attempted 48 3-pointers on the year.
“You have to shoot it,” Conley said. “I’m trying my best to tell him to shoot it every time. I get mad [when he doesn’t].”
That night, Jazz head coach Quin Snyder called O’Neale’s number on the first possession of the game, drawing up a play that ended with O’Neale draining a corner 3. It was both a nod to the confidence the Jazz have in what O’Neale is good at and a thank you for what O’Neale is great at.
“Guys are incredibly confident in him. That [play’ was a statement to that effect,” Snyder said. “And everyone appreciates how willingly he gives himself to the team, particularly on the defensive end. He’s been unique in his commitment to that end of the floor.”
O’Neale’s defensive assignments are as varied as they come. One night he’s being asked to guard the 6-foot-11 MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. The next, he’s shadowing the sensational rookie point guard Ja Morant.
“He’s been amazing for us,” said Rudy Gobert, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year. “Doing all of the dirty work. He’s the one guarding the best perimeter player.”
O’Neale takes pride in being willing and able to take on any defensive matchup.
“I just take every challenge personally,” he said. “I watch film to see the things they like to do, different types of players. Then it’s just having the confidence in myself and Coach having the confidence to give me those assignments.”
The Jazz know the kind of pressure O’Neale can put on the ball. His teammates would like to see O’Neale, who is taking 2.5 triples per game, put a little more on opposing defenders now.
“We want him to be aggressive when he’s open,” Snyder said. “There are also other guys on the court and Royce has a good feel for when to make an extra pass.”
“Guys keep telling me to shoot it no matter what if I’m open,” O’Neale said.
That’s one reason why the Jazz bench erupted after O’Neale knocked down a late triple on Friday night, a dagger with 55 seconds left in a Jazz win over the Grizzlies.
“I think Royce really set the tone for us,” Snyder said afterward. It showed in getting that last shot to really put the game away.”
“It means a lot,” O’Neale added. “Mike and Donovan and Joe always tell me to shoot more. Usually, it’s Bogey knocking down that shot. This time it was me.”