SALT LAKE CITY — On Friday morning, Royce O’Neale defeated Kyle Korver in a 3-point contest at the friendly confines of the Jazz’s practice facility. So at least a couple people may have known what was coming later that night.
“People don’t know that Royce is one of the better shooters on the team,” Donovan Mitchell said. “People don’t know that. But tonight, they got to see it.”
The Lakers would have preferred to have that information before Utah’s 113-95 win over Los Angeles on Friday. Because they clearly weren't convinced by his near-39 percent 3-point shooting on the season.
On the first possession of the game, Mitchell tossed the ball to O’Neale, who had been left wide open, and O'Neale nailed the shot. Moments later, O’Neale was once again left wide open by the Lakers — and the same result occurred.
“I told him, ‘Keep shooting,’" Mitchell said. “They were sagging off him at the beginning of the game, but eventually they are going to stop doing that.”
But by then, it was too late. O’Neale was already off to a hot shooting night. He started off the game 4-for-7 from deep.
In all, O’Neale made a career-high five 3-pointers in Utah’s win, finishing with 17 points and 7 rebounds in a team-high 40 minutes. With the Jazz playing without Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum, Raul Neto, Thabo Sefolosha and Grayson Allen, they were in dire need of some productive guard and wing minutes. O’Neale provided both.
“We’ve said it time and time again, he knows it. If you’re open, be ready to shoot, take your shot and shoot with confidence,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “Royce has earned his playing time and his minutes on the defensive end and being opportunistic offensively. We knew to go into the game he would a lot of minutes. We thought he could absorb that. He’s got to get ready. I don't how many we’ve had play 40 minutes this year. Maybe that’s the first one. He’s in good shape. He’s mentally tough. He played his game. And that’s whether he plays eight minutes, or 16 minutes or 28 minutes. That’s the way we want him to play.”
O'Neale was open and he shot it. And shot it. And shot some more. He finished with 12 3-point attempts. But that's exactly what his coaches and his teammates wanted. They were open shots. And O'Neale had prepared himself to make them.
“Each day, we shoot ever since he got here,” O’Neale said of he and Korver. “He’s been helping me out with my shot. Me and Donovan talk to him all the time, you know, just making it easier for us. And everyone on the offense finding me and me shooting it. I don’t know how many 3s I shot, but they were open, so I kept shooting.”
That should really be no surprise for anyone who knows Korver’s history. In Cleveland, Korver was the team’s defacto shooting coach. And Larry Nance Jr. even credits Korver for helping him go from a 12.5 percent 3-point shooter last season to a 33 percent shooter this season.
Korver's helping, but O’Neale’s work from behind the arc began long before Korver came over from the Cavs.
“Over the summer, he has improved his jumper tremendously,” Mitchell said. “Tonight, it showed.”
The Lakers just wish it would have shown a little bit earlier.