The Phoenix Suns' vaunted training staff is highly touted for their preternatural medical prowess, but it was German necromancers who resurrected O'Neal's career. Jermaine underwent a blood-spinning therapy, known as Regenokine, which had Jared Dudley tweeting that O'Neal looked five years younger. So how did the rejuvenated O'Neal fare on this season's report card?
Judging O'Neal based on his counterparts on the Suns
O'Neal came into the season as a bit of an unknown. His career seemed to be tapering towards its inexorable end, but reports of renewed vigor and vitality gave fans hope that he could be a productive backup. He was.
At times, O'Neal even outplayed starter Marcin Gortat (and obviously Haddadi). There isn't a stark contrast between their numbers, but that further illustrates how well O'Neal actually played. The only areas where Gortat held a significant advantage were turnovers and FG%. Jermaine was able to partially compensate for relinquishing control of the basketball at a higher rate by blocking nearly one extra shot per 36 minutes. Although Marcin's FG% was nearly four points higher, their true shooting percentages were much less disparate (Gortat .543, O'Neal .538) due to O'Neal's vastly superior FT%.
At this point in his career O'Neal is a backup dictated by the necessity of a reduced workload, but if he could actually go for 30+ minutes a night he could probably still start in the league (for a
crappy lesser team like the Suns) based on his numbers. Especially in a league plagued by a lack of effective centers.
Judging O'Neal based on previous seasons
The new O'Neal looked more like the old O'Neal than the caricature that needed to be put out to pasture. Besides minor nagging injuries Jermaine managed to stay healthy throughout the season while easily posting his best numbers in several years. This is quite impressive to me since 34 year old players rarely accomplish such a feat.
Judging O'Neal based on centers leaguewide
Out of 96 centers listed on Basketball-Reference.com O'Neal graded out quite favorably.
These categories O'Neal ranked in or near the top third. *All numbers per 36.
- 34th in rebounds
- 20th in points
- 11th in blocks
- 5th in FT%
- 35th in assists
Other areas weren't quite as roseate.
- 52nd in FG%
- 54th in win shares
- 78th in turnovers (ouch)
But two of those areas are still in the top 60, meaning he would rank out as a low end backup. Although his profligate nature with the basketball dropped him into the bottom third in turnovers, this was the only area where he graded out very poorly. Overall, I think a compelling argument can be made that O'Neal was one of the best backup centers in the league.
Overall Grade: A-
It was refreshing to finally write a review on a player that didn't have an underwhelming or execrable season. Jermaine provided everything a backup center is expected to and more. He was a Sun who actually exceeded expectations. But it could also be argued that O'Neal is the type of player that might help a team win a game or two so they finish in fourth instead of third and move down to fifth instead of winning the lottery like the Cleveland Cavaliers. Totally hypothetical scenario.
While I wouldn't be terribly upset with O'Neal returning, which is possible based on his effectiveness from the Suns' perspective and being able to stay healthy and contribute from Jermaine's, I would prefer for the Suns to go young and O'Neal get a chance to play for a better team in his waning career.