The Phoenix Suns came into the 2023-24 season hoping to be championship contenders. They already had a star duo in Kevin Durant and Devin Booker and they added a third in Bradley Beal to form a Big 3. But early injuries and inconsistent play saw them hover near the bottom half of the Western Conference playoff bracket. As the Suns prepare to open the NBA Playoffs with a first round matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Royce O’Neale could be their key X-factor.

For a vast majority of the season, the Suns found themselves in play-in position. The Suns did play well enough and managed to string together enough consistency to climb out of the play-in and make the NBA Playoffs outright as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference standings.

The matchup between the Suns and the Timberwolves will be an interesting one because even though the Wolves are the higher seed with homecourt advantage, the Suns could possibly steal this series.

Last season, the Suns were able to click enough after the trade deadline addition of Durant to get past the injured Los Angels Clippers in the first round, but couldn’t muster up much of a challenge against the eventual champion Denver Nuggets in the West Semifinals.

Trying to slow down Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards is going to go a long way towards the Suns being able to win this series. That’s where Royce O’Neale can come in as a defensive stopper.

Royce O’Neale’s value for the Suns can shine in the NBA Playoffs

Phoenix Suns forward Royce O'Neale (00) moves the ball against Los Angeles Clippers guard Amir Coffey (7) during the second half at Arena.
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Throughout his NBA career, Royce O’Neale has been the epitome of a 3&D player. He’s perfected the art of the catch and shoot three and he’s able to matchup well with bigger perimeter scoring threats.

Coming into the 2023-24 season, the Suns were looked at as being a top-heavy team with shaky depth. A big reason why the Suns brought O’Neale in at the NBA Trade Deadline was to shore up some of that depth. O’Neal perfected his craft as one of top role players in the league for the first five seasons of his career with the Utah Jazz.

Last season with the Brooklyn Nets was his first season outside of the Jazz. Since joining the Suns, O’Neale has played in 30 games, including eight starts at a little over 25 minutes per game. He’s been averaging 8.1 points per game, 5.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists with splits of 41.1 percent shooting from the field, 37.6 percent shooting from the three point line and 69.2 percent shooting from the free throw line.

Minnesota Timberwolves center Naz Reid (11) works around Phoenix Suns forward Royce O'Neale (00) in the fourth quarter at Target Center.
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Outside of the Suns Big 3, it stands reason to believe that Grayson Allen is the team’s X-factor against the Timberwolves. Allen has had a career year and is among the league’s best three point shooters. But it’s O’Neale’s defense that sets him apart.

Going up agains the Wolves, don’t be surprised to see O’Neale’s minutes increase. He’s got to continue to be a dependable three point shooter off the catch to keep defenses honest when they collapse on the Suns stars. Slowing down Anthony Edwards is going to be no easy task, but if anyone on the Suns roster is equipped to do so, it’s O’Neale.

You don’t really shut down a superstar like Edwards, you just have to make things difficult. Try and get him out of rhythm a bit and keep a hand in his face. That’s going to be O’Neale’s job and could decide if the Suns advance or not.