Royce O’Neale gives Suns much needed reliability off bench

Feb 8, 2024, 5:29 PM

Working the margins will often make or break a basketball team’s chances at the Larry O.B. and the Phoenix Suns corrected their summer of attempting to do that by trying again on Thursday with the acquisition of Royce O’Neale.

The 30-year-old wing comes to the Valley for three second-round picks. It is shipping out Keita Bates-Diop, Jordan Goodwin, Chimezie Metu and Yuta Watanabe, with the Memphis Grizzlies also involved in some way by sending David Roddy to the Suns, and the math appears to indicate they used a trade exception to bring Roddy in.

Phoenix’s strong offseason of signings of the veteran’s minimum only worked out with Eric Gordon. The rest have left head coach Frank Vogel shuffling through over a half-dozen names to find a reliable three or four other players to turn to on a night-to-night basis. Thus far, a six-game sample size of Bol Bol has been the most encouraging out of the bunch.

O’Neale arrives and cements the Suns having a definitive seventh guy. His role will fluctuate and his impact will wane but O’Neale is the exact type of accentuating player that gets maximized on top-heavy rosters built around stars like Phoenix’s.

The seven-year vet is a career 38.1% shooter and his year-by-year numbers are a reliable line graph that doesn’t have any erratic up-and-down movements. Since joining the Nets last season, 74.5% of his shot attempts have been 3s. That is his primary role offensively and he will rarely go outside of it.

On the other side of the ball, that’s where O’Neale’s made his money over the years. He is not quite the high-level on-ball irritant he once was with Utah but O’Neale is still solid in that regard. He will be defending one of the primary ball-handlers when he’s out there and brings plenty of experience on good teams playing sound team defense.

Think of it as more of a connective piece, which is where we get to the extra bonus of his skill set — his passing.

O’Neale over his previous five seasons is posting 2.8 assists a night to just 1.1 turnovers. That assist-to-turnover ratio of nearly three-to-one for a guy that is primarily a floor spacer on the court indicates someone is a good decision-maker.

You will have moments watching O’Neale that inspire a “good pass” out loud from you. He can bring the ball up at times to start a possession, making the key pass to trigger a set.

The element of unlocking it by attacking closeouts is there too.

There is some established chemistry with former teammate Kevin Durant.

With Brooklyn over two years. O’Neale’s had five assists or more in 30 different games.

He is not so much a playmaker as he is a connector. There’s not much to his off-the-dribble game and there will be some drives/possessions that go nowhere. Limitations exist. But he will help pick up the Suns’ ball movement, one of the team’s larger problems offensively, especially when Devin Booker is off the floor. O’Neale will likely be out there for all of those going forward. That’s a plus beyond how he is one on both ends of the floor.

He’s got some moxie to him. O’Neale is the latest Suns addition who has had some noticeable on-court competitiveness with Devin Booker stand out.


In a way, that turns out to be a good barometer for the type of teammates Phoenix should put around Booker.

Perhaps most important of all, O’Neale arrives with his Bird rights in tow. That means the Suns can re-sign him this summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent, even with how over the tax they currently are. Re-signing both Grayson Allen and O’Neale would push their tax bill into the stratosphere. Mat Ishbia is wealthy enough to own a spaceship that could get to that stratosphere and sustainably live there like Matt Damon did that one time on Mars.

We have often covered the Suns by labeling them as a really, really good team when five of their best six guys are out there. If O’Neale extends that to number to seven, this is a home-run trade, regardless of if he stays put or not. The fact that there’s a chance he could speaks to the logic behind the move already. Ishbia has given every indication he will pay up in these types of situations. Retaining both Allen and O’Neale will be telling of how far the line goes, or more so if there even is a line. Arizona Sports’ John Gambdoro reported another one of those indications, that Thursday’s moves cost Ishbia over $20 million.

To that point on this potentially being seven consistent players now, if Allen, Booker or Bradley Beal get injured, O’Neale now becomes the best fit to step in as that fifth starter. That will be valuable.

Arizona Sports’ John Gambdoro also notes the lone second-round pick Phoenix held onto is the 2028 selection that is protected 31-45 by the Boston Celtics.

Phoenix brought in O’Neale and Roddy without giving up 23-year-old wing Nassir Little, a note worth adding because of his affordable four-year contract that will keep a little bit of flexibility afloat after bringing in a quality player.

Roddy will help with that as well.

The 23rd overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, Roddy was stuck on a muddled-up Grizzlies roster full of mid-to-late first-round selections vying for playing time. He was one of them that failed to separate themselves, getting a good chunk of playing time over his first season and change.

Across 2,372 career minutes, Roddy has shot 30.4% at 3-point range and has 135 assists to 111 turnovers. As a 6-foot-4 undersized power forward of sorts, those numbers being where they are at in his type of role suggests he’s got a long way to go before being playable on the offensive end.

The vision for Roddy as a guy in the top-25 included his switchability defensively, where using his strength to size up powerful wings and length to make up for being undersized is a big factor. Those are the types of guys someone like Durant could use a hand with, so if Roddy in the short or long term is capable of handling that, it will be where he gives the most value. Roddy plays hard and is naturally physical because of how he uses every bit of a 255-pound frame. It makes him both a unique and intriguing prospect.

Roddy will have to prove in practice that those aspects plus his rebounding are enough of a positive to give him a shot in the rotation. It’s far too early into his NBA career to write him off but Memphis let him go for a few reasons, primarily to lessen its cap number and also because it didn’t have enough faith in his outlook going forward. Perhaps his second team and a contender full of veterans will be what he needs. Bol hardly looked the part in his other NBA locations before immensely impressing in a newfound role for Phoenix.

Another young guy on the bench with upside doesn’t hurt. In a perfect world, Roddy develops by next season into the perfect energy wing to play spot minutes when members of the Big 3 are resting.

For now, Roddy is on a long-term contract and the Suns don’t have enough of those guys. The jump on his salary from Year 3 (next year) to Year 4) is $2.8 million to $4.8 million. That fourth year is a team option the Suns will accept or decline by the start of next season, and that $2 million bump is not just something to easily cast aside with the luxury tax implications going forward.

Phoenix also by default now has two open roster spots. The Suns were expected to be active on the buyout market and now there is even more certainty with that. Backup center is a need that could be explored, as is a point guard for sporadic minutes off the bench.

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