When you are a low-profile player on a team that does not boast any stars, you know that there is still work to be done as a player to get yourself noticed. That is the case for Orlando Magic backup center Kyle O’Quinn, and last season he played very much under the radar. As a backup player at this position that was always going to be the case, and you get the feeling Charles Barkley probably doesn’t know who the 26-year-old suits up for, either. Nevertheless if you paid close enough attention you would see that O’Quinn has the tools to make a jump in production as a player.
Hard as it is to believe now, there was a time when Orlando had Dwight Howard as their starting center, and Marcin Gortat as the reserve. Both were good enough to be starters, and both ply their trade elsewhere now as starters, in Houston and Washington respectively.
O’Quinn and starting center Nikola Vucevic aren’t quite an effective one-two punch as their predecessors, but the important thing is that they try to be. O’Quinn needs to know his role and realize that while he is a part of this team, he will not beat Vucevic to the starting role. In 69 games last year though, he averaged 6.2 points and 5.3 rebounds in 17.2 minutes. The 19 games he started as a result of injury to his teammate swell the numbers a little, but all in all that proved to be a good experience for him. The 2.4 turnovers a game are ugly though, and improvement needs to be made in taking care of the basketball. His style of play means that there are going to be turnovers though. He springs off the bench and supplies considerable energy and pop for a big man. He is quite comfortable with his hands on the ball, even averaging just more than an assist a game for his efforts. Interestingly, however, his player efficiency rating for his team is 16.5, when the league average is 15. So he is doing something right when he gets the minutes.
Really, though, for O’Quinn it seems a case of not feeling comfortable within the team system yet. For the two years he has been a Magic player, they have been awful and had no expectation. That changes this year, and O’Quinn needs to know where best his contributions will fit in to this team. One suggestion might be moving him to the power forward position on a full-time basis. At 6’10″ he can certainly look after himself, but he is smaller than power forwards like Dirk Nowitzki and LaMarcus Aldridge. His jump shot would need considerable work, however, and his free throw percentage of .687 would also need to be looked at extensively if it was to work.
The Magic already have some forwards, but O’Quinn would match up better with players of that position, and a tandem with Vucevic on the floor would really clog things up inside the paint. Maybe it is an experiment that wouldn’t work very well, but if ever Orlando were trying to protect a lead and go ultra-defensive, they could do worse than give this a try.
It has been said that superstar players really begin to feel comfortable in the league and break out in the third year of their careers. Paul George of the Indiana Pacers and the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose are two recent examples that come to mind. Well, O’Quinn is never going to be a superstar, but a jump in his production in year three would be great to see. It may be hard though, as with the Magic’s two lottery picks they have you can be nearly sure at least one of those will go on a forward who will potentially take even more of the slim minutes O’Quinn is picking up right now. Still though, even if he just truly embraces his role coming off the bench behind Vucevic, he could morph into a sixth man type of player, or at the very least a high energy guy for the team’s second unit.
If you think O’Quinn is beginning to look like a hard sell at this point, you may have a point. Orlando are a team that right now is big on embracing youth, energy and potential to grow together. O’Quinn ticks all those boxes, and yet it still seems he will ultimately struggle to fit in here long term. There’s a lot to like about him, including his attitude and approach to the game. When all is said and done though, as this team move closer to contending for a spot in the playoffs, it seems the chance grows that this guy will become expendable.
That’s a real shame, as he had developed into a little bit of a cult hero in Orlando, especially with that beard he was rocking. Keep doing what you do and strive to improve, Kyle. You’ll be a better player for it. It’s just your best years in this league probably won’t come wearing an Orlando Magic jersey.