It took awhile for Gary Neal to find a niche in the NBA, a long while.
Undrafted out of Towson University in 2007 after averaging 25.3 points per game as a senior and 25.6 points a night during his two years with the Tigers, Neal didn’t even sniff an NBA offer.
Neal had been the Atlantic 10 Conference’s Rookie of the Year as a freshman at La Salle in 2002-03 season, averaging 18.6 points a game for the Explorers, and he knocked down 17.9 points per night as a sophomore.
That’s when everything changed. Neal was accused of sexual assault—he was ultimately acquitted—but the damage had been done to his career. La Salle booted him off the team after the allegations were made.
Neal went to Europe, leading the Turkish league in scoring in 2007-08 at 23.6 points a game with Pinar Karsiyaka. From there, Neal played in both Spain and Italy before earning a look from the San Antonio Spurs in 2010.
At age 26, Neal earned an All-Rookie first team bid, averaging 9.8 points and shooting 41.9 percent from 3-point range in 80 games for the Spurs in 2010-11.
He dealt with an appendectomy and missed 10 games in 2011-12 and was scratched from 14 games last season with minor bumps and bruises.
In three years with San Antonio, Neal averaged 9.7 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 204 games, getting 21.4 minutes a night and shooting 43.3 percent, 39.8 percent from deep.
In less playing time in the playoffs (17.5 minutes), Neal averaged 7.2 points in 41 postseason games for the Spurs. But he didn’t shoot it particularly well while San Antonio made a run to the NBA Finals last spring, hitting just 38.5 percent of his shots and only 34.8 percent from the land of 3.
Neal turned 29 on Oct. 3 and after signing a two-year, $6.5 million deal with the Milwaukee Bucks in July, he is being counted on to be not only a big-time performer off the bench for the Bucks, but also to be one of the veteran leaders for the second unit.
Milwaukee has 11 new players from last season, including Neal, and his spending three years in a winning culture such as what they have in San Antonio could be a key addition for the Bucks.
But Neal does bring some shooting skills, too. Neal hit 42.6 percent of his above-the-break 3-pointers from the center of the court (20-for-47) and was also very good from the elbows in the mid-range game, hitting 44.4 percent (20-for-45) from the left side of the court and 46 percent (17-for-37) from the right.
He was also solid hitting corner 3s, hitting 20-for-45 (44.4 percent), including a sizzling 11-for-20 (55 percent) from the left corner.
Neal was limited to four preseason games, averaging 21 minutes and nine points a night. He shot 43.8 percent (14-for-32), but was 6-for-11 from long range (54.5 percent).
For a team that struggled to score the way Milwaukee did in the preseason—the Bucks averaged just 90 points a game while shooting 43 percent as a group—any sort of offensive skill will be at a premium.
Because ultimately, that is how Gary Neal will be judged as a Milwaukee Buck—for his production, regardless of what sort of intangibles he brings to the floor, the bench or the dressing room.