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Royce O’Neale makes strong impression in preseason opener off the bench

NBA: Preseason-Philadelphia 76ers at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

When the Nets acquired Royce O’Neale from the Jazz in the offseason, it was an addition that caught fans by surprise given the drama that was flooding in Brooklyn. Now that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, along with a healthy Ben Simmons, are Nets going forward, O’Neale will have a giant impact with the Nets on both ends of the floor.

It didn’t take long for the veteran wing to prove his worth in Brooklyn. O’Neale, who cost the Nets a first-round pick, served as Brooklyn’s sixth man in Monday’s preseason opener. The 29-year-old showed his 3-and-D skill set, recording 11 points (3-of-5 shooting from the field and 2-of-4 shooting from 3-point range) to pair with two boards in 17 minutes.

His 3-and-D talents — talents that have made him one of the most reliable players at the wing position — are just one of the many ways O’Neale holds value for the Nets roster. Outside of his play on the hardwood, he can serve as a glue guy in the locker room — a necessity to all teams with championship aspirations.

“Royce is one of those players that you want on your team because he has a lot of experience. He’s been through a lot of battles. He understands the nuances of the game and what it takes to win,” said Kyrie Irving.

“They didn’t necessarily go over the hump in Utah but he was a part of those teams that led the league in offensive efficiency. And then defensively, they were always an effort to go against because [Rudy] Gobert was down there. I think he brings his intangibles to our team really well. We can utilize him on that wing to be a defensive stopper, which we know he is, but also add some dimension on offense by being a space-out shooter. He moves well, plays the game well being in that Utah system for a long period of time. Moving the ball is something drilled in their head. He fits well.”

Steve Nash and the coaching staff went with Joe Harris — the longest-tenured Net — over O’Neale in the preseason opener. In his 17 minutes of action, O’Neale thrived outside the arc with off-ball movement and Ben Simmons — who handled the rock and played a stretch at the 5 — connected with him on a series of passes outside the perimeter.

“Royce, I think he’ll be a great addition for us,” Nash said. “Incredible IQ, feel for the game, both sides of the ball. I think he’s going to tie the room together on many occasions.”

There is no question the Nets head coach and their staff will experiment with wing depth for the remainder of the preseason and in the early parts of the regular season. The current depth — Harris, O’Neale, Yuta Watanabe, and Kessler Edwards — excludes T.J. Warren (foot), who will likely not be available till November.

On the final day of Nets training camp, Seth Curry was asked about the depth, and considering Harris and O’Neale were both starters for a majority of their NBA tenures, what’s that competition going to be like for that spot? The guard noted then that while the team hasn’t made any starter decisions, but in the hind sight of things, it’s going to give Brooklyn more weapons to mix and match with and find units that thrive together.

“Yeah. I mean, it just shows that we have the luxury of depth. We have the luxury of options. We can clearly – if we can stay healthy – it gives us a lot of optionality,” said Curry on Sunday. “And if we have injury runs, we have options. So it’s just really a positive for us to have the depth and the shooting and experience. Now the challenge is health, and continuing to grow and understanding and cohesion. Again, it’s a first-year team, really. Four or five guys have played a lot of minutes together, but that’s about it. And a lot of new guys trying to gel and mesh is going to be a huge component of our success.”