DENVER — Not only has Royce O’Neale done everything the Nets have asked of him since they brought him in from Utah, but also he has done it better than they could’ve expected or even hoped.
“We already knew he was a great defender. We already knew he did all the hustle things, rebounds, etc,” Spencer Dinwiddie said. “He’s a far better playmaker than we knew, obviously, because Donovan [Mitchell] had the ball so much, and obviously, they had [Bojan Bogdanovic] and [Mike] Conley over there, so that’s another credit to his hat. But the 3-and-D tack, we already knew he could do that. And playing against him, I mean, we knew that.”
O’Neale will enter the game Sunday against the West-leading Nuggets a plus-54 in his last four appearances, all Nets wins.
He has averaged nine points and 8.5 rebounds in that span, following his 11-point, 11-board, two-steal night in Houston and his 12 points, 15 rebounds and three steals Friday in a win at Minnesota.
The rebounds tied his career high, which is even more impressive considering he was fighting with 7-foot-1 Rudy Gobert for many of them.
The 6-4 wing was even asked to front and harass the French behemoth during the Nets’ second-half comeback.
“Impressive, man,” Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn gushed. “It’s really our hope our young guys get to see this: Having dudes in a locker room that you can look up to, to see how they work, to see how he takes care of his body to produce. It’s just impressive.”
“We talked about it before the game. He’s done everything for us. The rebounds, he guarded Rudy in the post, he spaced the floor for us, he handled in pick-and-roll. He did about everything, and you’ve got to give him love for all of it.”
Vaughn said O’Neale has done it all despite up-and-down playing time.
He was a locked-in starter among the league leaders in minutes before the Kevin Durant–Kyrie Irving trades.
Since then, he has lost his starting spot, playing just 18:48 versus the Hornets last Sunday, but more than 32 minutes in each of the other three most recent games.
“Whether I’m starting or coming off the bench, no matter how many minutes I’m playing, I’m going to play as hard as I can, do things that I got to do for us to win the game, and just be myself,” O’Neale said. “I just keep the same mindset no matter how many minutes I’m playing. My whole career just being able to adapt to whether I’m playing a little bit or a lot, my focus is just to get better.”
The Nets have a clean injury report for Sunday other than Ben Simmons (left knee and back soreness), who will miss his tenth straight game and 26th of the season.
The Long Island Nets have won 16 straight games to close in on the G-League record of 18 straight in a single season, set by Idaho 15 years ago, and Rio Grande’s 19 consecutive spanning two campaigns a decade ago.
They improved to 22-3 with seven games left, and will face the Maine Celtics on Sunday in Portland, Maine.