When the Golden State Warriors signed 35-year-old center Jermaine O’Neal this past offseason to a one-year contract, the Warriors knew that they were adding a veteran leader and a quality backup center.
They knew they were bringing in a 17-year veteran who has endured more injuries and hinted at retiring from the NBA more times than any other Warrior. But they knew that O’Neal wanted what no other Warriors have: a championship.
And now in March of what could be his only season in the Bay Area, O’Neal has emerged as one of the key cogs in the Warriors second unit and a terrific backup option to the oft-injured Andrew Bogut.
Coach Mark Jackson has recognized just how important and productive O’Neal has been this season. “I am sensitive to the fact of the dues that he has paid, the miles he has on his body and how professional he is. It’s refreshing. Jermaine is a guy who appreciates how he is treated. He is impacting these [young] guys. He has a responsibility and he has the ability to leave this team and this league where guys are better basketball players.”
But is Jackson overusing his veteran backup center?
O’Neal has been incredibly productive since returning from a long injury hiatus that saw O’Neal miss 34 games. In his last eleven games O’Neal has eleven points and 7.1 rebounds in 23.7 minutes of play all while shooting 59.7 percent from the field. Almost 43 percent of O’Neal’s shots have come from 0-3 feet away from the rim, where he is shooting a career high 71 percent. Forty-one percent of the center’s shots are coming from 3-10 feet away from the rim where only has looked more like Jermaine O’Neal circa 2004.
In the Warriors win against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night, O’Neal scored 17 points and collected 8 rebounds in only 19 minutes of action.
Watch these two post-up sets as O’Neal goes to work on an inferior Hawks defender. And no these are not replays.
On both of these plays watch how the Warriors isolate O’Neal on the right block as the four other Warriors on the floor move to the right side of the court. O’Neal then goes to work on an inferior Hawks defender and finishes two left hand hook shots. In these plays for example, the Warriors are actually running plays for O’Neal to get him involved and much like how they try to involve Andrew Bogut on offense, the Warriors do occasionally call a few too many post ups for the 35-year-old center.
Watch in this clip how Draymond Green sets a screen for Andre Iguodala and upon receiving the pass from Iggy roles to the basket and attacks the rim. Green draws O’Neal’s defender and at the last moment dumps it down to the veteran center for an easy two.
While O’Neal has been excellent since returning, the Dubs don’t want to burn him out. Last season in Phoenix, O’Neal actually scored four more points per game and gather in 2.5 more rebounds per game after the All-Star break and showed few signs of fatigue on a dreadful Suns team.
Because of his importance to the Warriors second unit, coach Mark Jackson must keep O’Neal healthy and fresh or else the team as a whole will struggle.