Suspended Indefinitely: Jermaine O'Neal Spins Baseline, Into The Abyss

User avatar
RealGM Articles
Assistant Coach
Posts: 3,892
And1: 36
Joined: Mar 20, 2013

Suspended Indefinitely: Jermaine O'Neal Spins Baseline, Into The Abyss 

Post#1 » by RealGM Articles » Thu May 21, 2020 9:31 pm

It never happened for Jermaine O’Neal in Portland. Blazers GM Bob Whisitt drafted him at age 17 and 17th overall in 1996, and P.J. Carlesimo didn’t know what to make of him, and didn’t really have to considering he was an unknown quantity blocked off by established players Rasheed Wallace, Arvydas Sabonis, and Brian Grant. The guy just didn’t play—a tick under 12 minutes per game over four seasons—and when even new head coach Mike Dunleavy, whom O’Neal was told planned to shake up the rotation when he re-signed with the Blazers after his third year, didn’t seem interested in what he had to offer, he forced a move to Indiana. Donnie Walsh saw O’Neal in the summer of 2000, running through ballhandling drills in his hometown’s high school gym, and thought wait, what’s this kid doing on the bench in Portland? He traded away low post boulder and fan favorite Dale Davis for O’Neal the following September. He was 22 when the Pacers grabbed him. This was, strange as it would have been to say at the time, a little late.


O’Neal’s career, viewed in hindsight, takes on the shape of a slasher film. Get out of Portland, Jermaine! There’s not enough time! Many of the modern NBA’s best players are 30 or older, and a good number of them have suffered at least one gnarly injury and come back more or less intact. Paul George missed nearly an entire season after shattering his leg. Russell Westbrook had three surgeries on his right knee in the space of eight months. Steph Curry’s ankles didn’t solidify until he was in his mid-20s. It’s not like injuries are no longer a concern—for instance, we have yet to see if Kevin Durant is going to make a full recovery after rupturing his Achilles in last year’s Finals—but a hard fall or a tendon tear, a bad back or a problematic knee, isn’t the death sentence it used to be.


O’Neal had his best individual season at 24: 20.8 PPG on 48.3 percent shooting, 10.3 RPG, and 2.3 BPG. This was his third year in Indiana. Walsh was right; the Blazers didn’t know what they were doing. O’Neal wasn’t just much better than Carlesimo or Dunleavy could have imagined; he had an ideal skillset for his era. At 6-foot-11, he could play either center or power forward, and while he wasn’t the most explosive athlete, he was so strong, smooth, and smart that it hardly mattered. 


The NBA had legalized zone defense in 2001, but it was still a one-on-one game in 2003-04, and there weren’t many defenders who matched up well with O’Neal. Unless you had a superlative frontcourt stopper like Ben Wallace or Kevin Garnett on your roster, you had a problem, because O’Neal would take the loping fellas 14 feet from the basket and blow by them in space, and he would park the smaller dudes on the block and abuse them with soft hook shots he could release with either hand. And if you cheated toward the middle, he’d spin baseline and drain a short turnaround. He learned his footwork from early Maverick demi-great Mark Aguirre and there was a remarkable amount of polish to his game. He was handsome—his babyface, his impeccable braids. This is without mentioning that he was also one of the NBA’s best rim protectors. Rick Carlisle: “if Jermaine were into statistics, he could lead the league in blocks, but he’d have to break the rules of our system to do it, and that’s not the kind of guy he is.”


That’s a quote from the following year, when O’Neal was merely really good as opposed to far and away the best big man in the Eastern Conference. It was a superior season overall: the Pacers won 61 games. Ron Artest made the leap from incongruous talent to well-rounded treasure—narrator: this did not last long—and Al Harrington supplied buckets and boards off the bench. Carlisle was, as he is now, an excellent coach who figured out how to extract useful minutes from a backcourt that featured a 38-year-old Reggie Miller, plus Jamaal Tinsley and Anthony Carter running point. This was the East in the mid-aughts; beyond the suddenly Sheed-bolstered Pistons, it wasn’t teeming with worldbeaters. But O’Neal could have walked into any starting lineup. He made second-team All-NBA. Shaq: “he’ll be the dominant big man one day—after I leave.”


In a kinder universe, O’Neal breaks out even further the next year. He was 26. He and Artest formed an outstanding two-way combo. The front office had worked a sign-and-trade in which they swapped out Harrington for the more versatile and talented Stephen Jackson. That 2004-05 Pacers squad might have been a genuine title contender. Instead, as Satan clapped his hands like a small child at a carnival, Artest went into the crowd at the Palace at Auburn Hills, and that detonated Indiana’s season before it started. The Malice At The Palace exists outside of time, but it was also the ninth game of the year. The Pacers’ title challenge lasted the length of a pop song. Artest was suspended for the rest of the season. Jackson got banned for 30 games. O’Neal missed 15. He wasn’t throwing punches in the stands. He cussed out some fans who threw beers and sodas at him while he was walking down the tunnel to the locker room. But this was David Stern’s NBA. And it was Indiana, where even Reggie Miller was viewed with some suspicion. Artest was traded away in 2005, Jackson in 2007, and O’Neal in 2008. 


The Malice is sometimes posited as the event that shattered the upward trajectory of that promising Pacers squad. This reading isn’t wholly incorrect—Artest was awesome but immediately toxic, and the same could be said, to a lesser extent on both counts, about Captain Jack—but it ignores the fact that O’Neal started to fall apart physically after that miserable null and void season concluded. His physical decline occurred independently of every other minor tragedy that was afflicting the franchise. Some shoulder stuff, some knee stuff. He couldn’t stay on the court consistently, and when he played, it was seemingly always at 80 percent. Well Jerry, it doesn’t look like O’Neal’s totally comfortable jumping off his right leg. That kind of thing. It was more common then than it is now. Less remarkable. Jermaine O’Neal was a significantly diminished player by age 30. He wasn’t a Pacer anymore either, freelancing for the Miami Heat in their post-title, pre-LeBron era. 


This series has a title—Suspended Indefinitely, like Artest was initially—because banners are nice; they give the illusion of order. Really this is a dude sitting in quarantine Remembering Some Guys with less wit than David Roth, researching and riffing about players who were more—in the abstract and sometimes in reality—than they got credit for. There was also an entry on Kevin Garnett, because I read a bunch of pieces about what media folks made of him when he was coming out of high school and thought it was interesting. The series is about giving due and killing time. Some weeks feature worthier subjects than others.  


I mention this in order to give weight to this statement: Jermaine O’Neal got the rawest cosmic deal of his generation. He sat in Portland, flourished in Indiana, and suffered through an aborted phantom season that could have seen him realize new heights. He could have even won a championship. Then he started to get hurt all the time. It sucked. “The fact is, I played on one leg for two years,” he told Sports Illustrated in the summer of 2008. He’d been traded to Toronto by then, ostensibly mentoring but more accurately getting in the way of a young Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani. This amount to at least one and a half indignities, which O’Neal understood better than anyone. He had been there, after all, when he was at the brink of greatness. And then nobody got to find out what would happen next, had reality not been so cruel.

Biff
Sixth Man
Posts: 1,759
And1: 402
Joined: Jun 10, 2007
Contact:
 

Re: Suspended Indefinitely: Jermaine O'Neal Spins Baseline, Into The Abyss 

Post#2 » by Biff » Fri May 22, 2020 10:54 pm

I liked O'Neal but felt he was a bit overhyped. He had a career TS% of 51.7 and that had nothing to do with his injury problems, he was 51.2% with Indiana. That's pretty abysmal for a big man. Maybe he really gets it together if he stays healthy but I think more than likely he just continues as a good defensive big that is a rather inefficient (though skilled) offensive player.

Aside from my opinion of JO, it's always a pleasure to read your stuff, Colin.
"Now everybody wanna play for the heat and the Lakers? Let's go back to being competitive and going at these peoples!" - Kevin Durant
User avatar
NO-KG-AI
Retired Mod
Retired Mod
Posts: 37,418
And1: 9,008
Joined: Jul 19, 2005
Location: The city of witch doctors, and good ol' pickpockets

Re: Suspended Indefinitely: Jermaine O'Neal Spins Baseline, Into The Abyss 

Post#3 » by NO-KG-AI » Sat May 23, 2020 10:11 am

Biff wrote:I liked O'Neal but felt he was a bit overhyped. He had a career TS% of 51.7 and that had nothing to do with his injury problems, he was 51.2% with Indiana. That's pretty abysmal for a big man. Maybe he really gets it together if he stays healthy but I think more than likely he just continues as a good defensive big that is a rather inefficient (though skilled) offensive player.

Aside from my opinion of JO, it's always a pleasure to read your stuff, Colin.


From 00-05 the only guys to score more than Jermaine and score over 50% from the field were Shaq, Duncan, Garnett, and Amare Stoudemire(once)... it was just kind of an ugly scoring environment as a whole. I think with the way rules were set, and the way gameplans were laid out, it was tough to score in general.

If you extend it to guys that scored 20 or more points on 50% shooting from 00-05, you can add Elton Brand to that list for one season as well. Not Dirk, not any of the super wings/guards of the era. There was a ton of scoring talent that couldn't accomplish it, for a reason.

I think when the game really started to open up and coaches became a lot more aware of how to more properly utilize a talent like O'Neal, he had already gotten so banged up and faded, that he missed his shots.

He had pretty good variety of scoring skills, and by all accounts was intelligent and very coachable, I could see his scoring being a lot more efficient in the right environment. As it was, he was an isolation scorer on a defensive team, in the hardest era to score the basketball. I wouldn't hold that against him too much. He wasn't an MVP level player, but I think his shooting percentages don't paint how good he was during his day.
Doctor MJ wrote:I don't understand why people jump in a thread and say basically, "This thing you're all talking about. I'm too ignorant to know anything about it. Lollerskates!"
TMac Culloch
Freshman
Posts: 78
And1: 23
Joined: Sep 24, 2016
       

Re: Suspended Indefinitely: Jermaine O'Neal Spins Baseline, Into The Abyss 

Post#4 » by TMac Culloch » Sat May 23, 2020 12:08 pm

He may not have went in the stands but he rocked a guy with that slip and slide punch
Rashidi
Senior
Posts: 704
And1: 57
Joined: Dec 31, 2005
Location: New York, NY
Contact:

Re: Suspended Indefinitely: Jermaine O'Neal Spins Baseline, Into The Abyss 

Post#5 » by Rashidi » Mon May 25, 2020 8:25 pm

O'Neal wasn't getting in the way of Andrea Bargnani.

Bargnani was getting in the way of Bargnani.
We Are Groot
Sophomore
Posts: 151
And1: 15
Joined: Dec 24, 2014

Re: Suspended Indefinitely: Jermaine O'Neal Spins Baseline, Into The Abyss 

Post#6 » by We Are Groot » Tue May 26, 2020 7:09 am

These have been fun. Thanks for writing them. Admittedly skipped one or two (we shall not name names) but I've always been a fan of B-sides - so getting these takes (without being overly verbose) is something I'm grateful for

Thank you
Biff
Sixth Man
Posts: 1,759
And1: 402
Joined: Jun 10, 2007
Contact:
 

Re: Suspended Indefinitely: Jermaine O'Neal Spins Baseline, Into The Abyss 

Post#7 » by Biff » Wed May 27, 2020 8:09 pm

NO-KG-AI wrote:
Biff wrote:I liked O'Neal but felt he was a bit overhyped. He had a career TS% of 51.7 and that had nothing to do with his injury problems, he was 51.2% with Indiana. That's pretty abysmal for a big man. Maybe he really gets it together if he stays healthy but I think more than likely he just continues as a good defensive big that is a rather inefficient (though skilled) offensive player.

Aside from my opinion of JO, it's always a pleasure to read your stuff, Colin.


From 00-05 the only guys to score more than Jermaine and score over 50% from the field were Shaq, Duncan, Garnett, and Amare Stoudemire(once)... it was just kind of an ugly scoring environment as a whole. I think with the way rules were set, and the way gameplans were laid out, it was tough to score in general.

If you extend it to guys that scored 20 or more points on 50% shooting from 00-05, you can add Elton Brand to that list for one season as well. Not Dirk, not any of the super wings/guards of the era. There was a ton of scoring talent that couldn't accomplish it, for a reason.

I think when the game really started to open up and coaches became a lot more aware of how to more properly utilize a talent like O'Neal, he had already gotten so banged up and faded, that he missed his shots.

He had pretty good variety of scoring skills, and by all accounts was intelligent and very coachable, I could see his scoring being a lot more efficient in the right environment. As it was, he was an isolation scorer on a defensive team, in the hardest era to score the basketball. I wouldn't hold that against him too much. He wasn't an MVP level player, but I think his shooting percentages don't paint how good he was during his day.


I was using TS%, which is a lot better at determining efficiency than simple fg%. In the season where he averaged 24.3ppg, he was 9th in scoring and out of those players that scored more than him, his TS% is last out of the group (not counting Artest since he only played in 7 games). Go back through the rest of his time with Indiana and it's not any better. In 2001-2002, 21 players averaged more points and shot a better TS%. 02-03 it was 10 players. 03-04 it was 17 players.

He was a good player but overhyped. As mentioned in the article, Shaq called him the next dominate big man in the game. I don't think that was ever remotely the case.
"Now everybody wanna play for the heat and the Lakers? Let's go back to being competitive and going at these peoples!" - Kevin Durant

Return to Articles Discussion