Denton: O'Quinn Gets First Start of Season

By John Denton
March 8, 2014

SAN ANTONIO – Approximately eight hours prior to tipoff on Saturday night, Orlando Magic center Kyle O’Quinn was asked about his ability to block shots at a high rate and what kind of numbers he thought he could put up with more playing time.

Right on cue, O’Quinn was named a starter on Saturday to be a part of Orlando’s big lineup against San Antonio’s Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter.

O’Quinn, who has played his best basketball in two seasons of late, was awarded his first start of the season on Saturday night. He started five games as a rookie last season, but the promotion on Saturday was given because he has earned the trust of his teammates and coaches with his consistently strong effort of late.

In the first 50 games of the season, O’Quinn blocked 51 games. What is more impressive is that he came into Saturday’s game averaging 1.02 blocks a game in just 14.8 minutes a night.

``I can’t tell you what I would do with more minutes; I can only tell you what I’ve been doing with these minutes that I am given,’’ O’Quinn said before learning that he would be starting on Saturday for the first time. ``Hopefully if I get more minutes the numbers will go up accordingly.’’

Magic coach Jacque Vaughn wanted to reward O’Quinn with a starting nod for the solid play that he’s displayed of late, especially on the defensive end. In the five games prior to Saturday, O’Quinn had blocked 10 shots. He had four swats two weeks ago in Philadelphia and he stuffed three shots on Wednesday against Houston, including a block of a Dwight Howard shot that excited the Amway Center crowd.

``I’m not the most athletic guy, so pretty much all of my blocks are timing, help-side defense, communicating and trusting and having the chemistry with the guys,’’ O’Quinn said. ``I know if Mo (Harkless) gets beat he’s at least going to fight his way back into the play and make him take a tougher shot and I can get (the block over the top). With Victor (Oladipo), I know he’s fast enough to cut guys off and get back into the play. All of my blocks are timing.’’

O’Quinn was inserted into the lineup Saturday night to battle Duncan, who is considered by many to be the greatest power forward in the history of the game and a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he’s done playing. O’Quinn, 23, watched Duncan, 37, play when he was still in high school and college and idolized the skilled big man.

``Before the game, you think, `Man, I’m going head to head with a guy that I always looked up to,’’’ O’Quinn said. ``But on the court it doesn’t matter at that point and a game is a game.’’

PEP TALKS: The success that Gregg Popovich has had in San Antonio has helped several of his assistant coaches land head coaching jobs elsewhere. However, many of those coaches such as Orlando’s Vaughn, Philadelphia’s Brett Brown, Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer and New Orleans’ Monty Williams, have struggled this season while leading rebuilding teams. Popovich said he still talks to many of those coaches regularly, considers them friends and offers up words of encouragement.

Popovich said pep talks aren’t necessarily needed when he talks to Vaughn, who is an eternal optimist even though Orlando has struggled mightily the past two seasons as it has worked to retool the roster around a host of young players. Vaughn played for Popovich from 2006-09 and coached alongside of him as an assistant from 2010-12. The oft-cranky Popovich said he still marvels at Vaughn’s blend of confidence, intelligence and optimism.

``When we talk, it’s about basketball and asking about each other’s families,’’ Popovich said. ``He’s a grown man and he spent a wonderful NBA career being a guy who wasn’t all that talented, but he got the most out of what he had. He knew what he had to do to survive. He has a very good understanding of the game because of the things that he couldn’t do as a player. His maturity level and intelligence level don’t require me to pump him up. He’s probably more capable of pumping me up that I am with him. He’s a tough little nut and he doesn’t need me to give him a pep talk.’’