Coming into the season, the Golden State Warriors’ signing of veteran Jermaine O’Neal was looked at as an afterthought by most people. The Warriors already had an established starting center in Andrew Bogut and a quality backup in Festus Ezeli.
However, with the injury to Ezeli, O’Neal has been instrumental to the Warriors’ success this season.
In December, the Warriors received a scare when O’Neal went down with a wrist injury that required arthroscopic surgery and was expected to be out for four months. O’Neal shocked everyone when he returned to the lineup in just two months, returning in half the time that was originally reported. Since then, O’Neal has been a beast in the middle, making huge plays and being a veteran leader on this team.
Since the injury, O’Neal has been averaging 10 points, grabbing seven rebounds per game and playing great defense. He was instrumental in wins over Houston, Brooklyn and Detroit, all games the Warriors needed to win. Against the Rockets, he had only two points but made the play of the game where he blocked a Chandler Parsons dunk attempt in overtime to seal the Warriors’ win over the Rockets. The block was great but the reaction after the play was memorable. After the block, O’Neal stared at the raucous Oracle crowd with a “remember me” intimidating stare. It was a reminder to everyone that O’Neal still had the athletic ability to contribute to playoff-bound team.
Against the Nets and Pistons, O’Neal scored 39 points, grabbed 23 rebounds and shot almost 80 percent from the field. He looked like the player from Indiana when he was the best player on the court, scoring at will and protecting the rim. He has brought the Warriors a veteran and vocal leader, something this team desperately has needed since the departures of Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry.
He believes this team can compete for a championship this season and having experienced playoff success himself, we should believe him. He sees the potential balance on this team with the shooting of the “Splash Brothers” and inside play of David Lee and Bogut. He has seen the transformation of Golden State changing from a run-and-gun team to one of the best defensive teams in the NBA, something that is much more successful in the postseason than just trying to outscore everyone.
The only problem with his assertion is that the Warriors do not play consistent enough for this to become a reality. They struggle with turnovers, have defensive liabilities in Curry and Lee, and Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes have struggled to make the jump that the organization and fans expected them to make and become potential stars.
But with these problems, the Warriors remain in the sixth spot in the Western Conference, winning 60 percent of their games and O’Neal is one of the big reasons why there are in this position.
O’Neal will have to continue to play well because of the lack of depth in the front court and the likelihood of Ezeli not playing this season. If he continues to play well and everyone else plays to their potential, the Warriors will be in a great position to achieve O’Neal’s goal to competing for a championship, something everyone wants to see in the Bay Area.