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Thursday, June 21, 2012
Report Card: Jermaine O'Neal

By Chris Forsberg

Elsa/Getty ImagesJermaine O'Neal ices his chest -- one of numerous injuries he endured during his time with Boston.
Over the three weeks leading up to start of the new league year on July 1, we'll take a player-by-player look at the Celtics' 2011-12 roster and how each player's season unfolded, assigning a grade for their overall performance. This is the ninth in the series of report cards:

Player: Jermaine O'Neal  
2011-12 averages: 5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 22.8 mpg
2011-12 salary: $6.2 million

Season in a paragraph: The Celtics nearly found a way to deal O'Neal for David West in the preseason, only to watch West instead sign with the Indiana Pacers. O'Neal brushed off the rumors and was promptly anointed the "training camp MVP" by a smitten coach Doc Rivers. The honeymoon-after-the-near-divorce didn't last long as O'Neal made it just five games before a sore hamstring forced him to sit out his first game of the season (not a good sign for a player that had set a goal to play upwards of 90 percent of Boston's total games). O'Neal showed encouraging signs early in the campaign, taking charges in bulk and showcasing that familiar shot-blocking abilities. Alas, his body failed him again. His shoulder, knee, and chest would all act up before O'Neal aggravated a left wrist ailment taking a charge in Dallas before the All-Star break and that injury ultimately ended his season.

Season highlight: Oh sure, it might have been the return of a more beloved center (Kendrick Perkins), but O'Neal went off for 12 points and 11 rebounds in a mid-January loss to the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder. O'Neal did his damage, which included two steals and a block, over a mere 24 minutes. It was his only double-double of the season and only one of two in a Boston uniform (the other being a meaningless late-season game against Washington in April 2011).

Season lowlight: O'Neal aggravated a preexisting wrist injury -- one he elected to skip surgery on in the lockout-extended offseason last summer -- on Feb. 20 in Dallas, but it would be a full month before the team announced he would undergo season-ending surgery (and another month until he was outright released so the team could ink Sean Williams before the postseason). Right before the decision was made to pursue surgery, Rivers -- seemingly exasperated at the daily inquiries surrounding O'Neal's injury woes, particularly for a player that wasn't traveling with the team as he underwent physical therapy in hopes of playing again -- essentially said the team was moving on with the players that were available coming off the trade deadline. In a season in which the Celtics battled insane amounts of adversity, no one exactly stopped to lament the loss of O'Neal in late March.

Final grade: F+

Teacher's notes: We initially toyed with the idea of going with an incomplete. But, no, this was complete -- complete disaster. The Celtics gave up $12 million (two years at the full mid-level exception) for O'Neal to appear in 58 total games (less than a third of the total 177 games -- playoff and regular season -- that Boston played over the past two seasons). O'Neal showed glimpses of being able to help size-deprived Boston early in the 2011-12 campaign (hence the '+' in his grade; yes, we're a sucker for charge-takers), but his stats were still an eyesore. Consider this: O'Neal shot a mere 17.6 percent in post-up situations (3 for 17), ranking in the 2nd percentile, according to Synergy Sports data (this for a player that's 7-foot-1!). He pleaded with reporters to ignore the offensive stats and suggested that he deserved NBA All-Defensive consideration if he maintained his level of early season defensive play. Trouble there was -- masked by the charges and blocked shots -- was a player that owned a 103 defensive rating despite playing with Boston's defensive-minded starting 5 and allowed 0.85 points per play overall, ranking in the 49th percentile, according to Synergy Sports. Yes, O'Neal was solid as a post defender, but he was a liability against the pick-and-roll with his lack of mobility. What's more, his total rebound percentage was a mere 11.8 percent, down more than three percent from the previous season on a team desperate for rebounding.

What's next?: According to O'Neal's Twitter feed, he trekked to Germany recently to undergo the blood-spinning procedure that helped Kobe Bryant's arthritic knee. O'Neal suggested that procedure is the first step in working his way back to an NBA roster next fall. In a league desperate for size, he might just get another shot. Alas, it almost certainly won't come in Boston.

Honor roll: Click HERE to read past report cards.

Don't agree with teacher? Just want to sound off on O'Neal's 2011-12 season? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.