O’Quinn, after two years of showing glimpses of talent, seems to have found his groove this season.
When Steve Mills signed Kyle O’Quinn to a four-year, $16 million deal in a sign-and-trade deal with the Orlando Magic in 2015, optimism was high for the gritty big man.
O’Quinn has been able to demonstrate his talents for the organization occasionally, progressing as each year has gone on. Despite missing over 20 games in his first year, O’Quinn was able to establish himself in the rotation more consistently in year two, even breaking into the starting lineup eight times in the 79 games he played. Now, though, in year three, six games into the season, he is seeing a career high in minutes per game, translating to him being a focal point off of the bench for a Knicks team riding a three game winning streak.
During the young season, O’Quinn is averaging 17.2 minutes per game while posting 7.0 points (career high), 56 percent shooting from the field (career high), 7.7 rebounds (career high), 1.8 assists (career high), and 1.5 blocks per game (career high). Alongside this, O’Quinn’s aggressiveness is paying off, as he is getting to the line at a career high 2.8 times a game, converting 2.3 of those attempts.
Proving to be effective enough for head coach Jeff Hornacek to deploy late in the fourth quarter in a tight game against the Denver Nuggets, O’Quinn has proved extremely reliable on both ends of the court, posting a defensive rating of 99, good for second best on the team, only trailing Willy Hernangómez(95), who has seen extremely limited minutes thus far this season. In addition, he is also contributing an offensive rating of 120, second best on the team behind Doug McDermott (129).
Defensively, O’Quinn leads the team in defensive rebounding percentage, as he has grabbed 32.3 percent of available defensive rebounds — 4.1 percent more than Enes Kanter, who is second to O’Quinn on the team. O’Quinn also leads the team in block percentage, wherein he has blocked 8.5 percent of opponents’ two point field goal attempts while on the court. Oddly enough, despite O’Quinn’s stellar play off of the bench, we find that his usage rate is at a career low, as the Knicks are only utilizing him in 17.5 percent of the team’s plays when he is on the floor.
Though not an indicator this early on in the season, O’Quinn is also currently leading the team in Defensive Win Shares with 0.2 while also third in Offensive Win Shares with 0.3.
So what does O’Quinn’s strong form mean?
Well, it is currently a blockade for Willy Hernangómez to earn more minutes, and that might be a good thing. Thus far this season, one of the main gripes by Knicks fans has been the lack of usage of Hernangómez, and that is primarily down to the somewhat surprising play of Kanter and O’Quinn, both of whom have formed a tandem that he Knicks and Hornacek feel comfortable utilizing over a 48 minute stretch.
Kanter’s standout play as a starter, coupled with O’Quinn’s fearless, gritty style off the bench to gives the Knicks a solid one-two punch at the pivot. The frontcourt play has been a big reason for the Knicks’ success over the past few games, and while it starts with Kristaps Porzingis, the centers can’t be undersold.
Despite all the positives, there always has to be a negative. Remember when we said O’Quinn signed a four-year deal? Well, the fourth year is a player option, and with him currently earning $4 million annually, he will most likely opt out as his play continues to impress, aiming for the chance to finally start on and up-and-coming roster. With Hernangómez still a valuable asset to New York, it’s unlikely, in the long run, they’d value O’Quinn over Hernangómez when it comes to commitment, making O’Quinn’s recent breakout form somewhat of a hearsay for the Knicks moving forward.
For now, though, let’s see how much we can get out of O’Quinn. During the brief three game streak, fans have seen a team full of young talent, eager to play at a higher level. With the rebuilding process now fully committed to, we are starting to see the true talent of what were bench pieces just a year ago, O’Quinn included. He is one of many stories you can write when looking at the Knicks early on this season, but truly adapting well to his new role, we’re finding his style of play to be perfectly suited for this New York squad.