If 35-year-old Jermaine O’Neal retired today, he’d likely be on the fringe regarding the Basketball Hall of Fame. This isn’t to say he hasn’t been effective in the league, the guy made six consecutive all-star games from 2002 to 2007, was named to the all-NBA team three times, and won the leagues most improved player award following the 2001-02 season. If he comes back for his 19th season in 2014-15, which he should, he certainly wouldn’t be doing it for accolades or HOF votes.
“I think it was the part of me that always wanted to prove people wrong,” O’Neal said in April. “That’s changed. It’s not about proving people wrong. It’s about answering the call and looking in that mirror [knowing] that I can do something that man says you can’t do.”
He no longer averages the 20 points and 10 rebounds that made him a marquee figure in the league in the early part of the millennium. He no longer plays 35 minutes or hoists 15+ shots per night; the last four seasons he’s averaged a sliver under 20 minutes and 5.4 field goal attempts. Following the 2005 season, a panoply of injuries derailed his career, and he abjectly anchored his body near the team’s ice machine. This past season in Golden State marked the sixth home he’s had in seven years. But he no longer has to be the fulcrum of a franchise, he must simply be present.
O’Neal joined the Warriors last offseason. Despite having never made an NBA all-defensive team, his rim protection numbers in 2013-14 were imposing. According to Seth Partnow’s newly furnished rim protection metrics, O’Neal’s S OPA/G, or how many more (or less) points per game does the player prevent with their rim protection when compared to the NBA’s average big man, is 1.67, or 10th in the league. His adjusted save percentage per 36 minutes, or the approximate number of shots the player would have contested in a “league average” environment is 7.67, also 10th in the league. Relative the number of possible attempts, O’Neal contests 56 percent of shots at the rim, fourth in the league.
In last year’s playoffs, opponents shot just 45 percent at the rim against the South Carolina native. He recovered 54.8 percent of rebounds per chance and 38.5 percent on contested rebounds during the regular season, which isn’t entirely ideal, but isn’t sieve-like, either.
Most of O’Neal’s shooting numbers are drastically hedged by the sample size of attempts, but it’s clear that he’s still an efficient shooter. Despite averaging seeing just 23.9 touches per game, he did average 7.9 points and 5.5 rebounds on 50.4 percent shooting from the floor. Obviously he isn’t going to take over and win you games, but it’s hollow to believe he can’t contribute effectively.
Golden State has a burgeoning demand for veteran leadership; only Andre Iguodala has eclipsed 30. On a team with a new coach in Steve Kerr, the Warriors need direction on the court, and they should look no further than No. 7.
Josh Planos has had his work featured at Rivals, Bleacher Report, Denver Post, CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio, and ESPN Radio, and is currently a columnist for the ESPN TrueHoop Network, FanSided and The Pick and Roll. He loves interacting with readers via Twitter (@JPlanos).