In what has become a yearly tradition of sorts, ESPN.com has brought back #NBArank in an effort to project how players such as Jermaine O’Neal will fare in comparison to the rest of the league in 2013-14.
Previously, the exercise consisted of evaluating the players talent coupled with their productivity. This time around though, the panel (in the interest of full disclosure, I was part of the voting process) was tasked with looking into the future and evaluating how every player in the league would perform.
From there, every player in the league was given a score, which was used to rank the players from worst to best. At the conclusion of this hard work, we are now left waiting in anticipation for the announcement of the player rankings on Twitter (@ESPNNBA).
One of the players that has already been divulged is Jermaine O’Neal. The Golden State Warriors signed him during the 2013 offseason in an effort to help fortify the frontline for a team hoping to make the playoffs once again.
His #NBArank heading into the 2013-14 campaign is 312th in the association. His spot landed him between Charlie Villanueva (313) and Joel Anthony (311). The next five players rated higher than O’Neal are Leandro Barbosa (310), Richard Hamilton (309), Willie Green (308), Keith Bogans (307) and Richard Jefferson (306).
When looking at that group of players, what stands out is that they are all limited specialists. That makes sense given that this one of the lowest tiers of rated players. It does beg one question though: is O’Neal overqualified for his ranking?
It seems relevant to point out that at this point in his career, O’Neal is a rotation player at best. The former Phoenix Sun has started 38 games since 2010-11 and appeared in a total of 104 games.
During his two-year stint with the Boston Celtics, the center faced a rash of injuries ranging from his left knee to his left wrist. Also, he was bothered during the 2012-13 by a calf injury which limited his game count with the Suns.
Heading into 2013-14, there may be room for optimism amongst Warriors fans because it would appear as though O’Neal has taken the necessary steps towards ensuring he is available to play after traveling to Germany for some medical treatment during the 2013 summer.
Needless to say, his health is a huge factor with respect to his rank. O’Neal is no longer a great offensive option. Asking him to carry an offense for even a few stretches is pure folly at this point in his career because he is simply not capable of doing so.
The bulk of his successful field goals in 2012-13 came via pick-and-rolls, offensive rebounds and cuts per Synergy Sports. He was either slightly below average or subpar in every other setting.
However, there will always be a place in the league for a player such as O’Neal because of his defense. A bad Suns team that finished in the league’s bottom-third in defensive rankings was actually good with the ambidextrous center on the hardwood.
NBA.com’s advanced stats tool tells us that when O’Neal hit the floor, Phoenix was amongst the league’s top-half in defensive rankings. The improvement is important enough that Golden State should feel comfortable with him anchoring the second unit’s defense in 2013-14.
Although his availability was limited in Boston, whenever he did suit for the Celtics in 2011-12, Doc Rivers’ group sported the best defensive in the league statistically. This is because O’Neal challenges players at the basket and does so within timely fashion.
Opposing teams have a really hard scoring at the hoop against O’Neal and he is also a very good individual post defender. His combination of timing and length make it difficult for opponents to convert shots over his outstretched arms.
According to Basketball Reference, the big man has averaged 12.6 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per 36 minutes since 2010-11. Those are pretty solid numbers and could potentially have led him to a greater rank if not for health concerns.
O’Neal is a valuable piece and good role player, but projecting his level of performance in 2013-14 is an iffy proposition at best because of the unreliability of his body.
Thus, his ranking is fair. It is interesting that he could have a major impact on the Dubs’ bench play during the 2013-14 season simply because of his defensive acumen and at the same time his contributions might be completely non-existent depending on his health.
He is a wildcard of sorts and Golden State certainly hopes his talent and experience help the Warriors on the hardwood. If he does, his #NBArank will become somewhat comedic in retrospect but in the event his body does not hold up, the rankings will prove to be prophetic.
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