Denton: O'Quinn Has Become Magic's Go To "In-Bounder"

By John Denton
March 3, 2014

ORLANDO – For two seasons, center Kyle O’Quinn has desperately longed for a steady role on the Orlando Magic and a position that would lend credence to the fact that he definitely belongs on a NBA roster.

While ``designated in-bound passer late in games’’ might not be the kind of headline-grabbing role at the top of most NBA players’ wish lists, O’Quinn welcomes his newest responsibility. Also, it speaks volumes about his high basketball IQ and the trust he’s earned among his coaches and teammates.

Think about it: When the Magic are in-bounding the ball late in games and absolutely have to get the ball in or lose possession, wouldn’t you want the ball in the hands of an intelligent and trusted player? When the Magic are in crunch time and needing a big play out of a timeout, wouldn’t you want the passer to be someone with great size, vision and creativity?

O’Quinn fits the bill on all categories, and he’s honored that head coach Jacque Vaughn entrusts him to make the right plays with the game on the line.

``That means a lot because I have a role on the team,’’ said O’Quinn, who had eight points, eight rebounds, two steals, two assists and a blocked shot in Orlando’s 92-81 whipping of Philadelphia on Sunday. ``Any role on the team means something and you have to take care of it. I just thank (Vaughn) for trusting me and I want to take advantage of it.’’

Actually, O’Quinn has carved out a much bigger role on the Magic than simply just an in-bounded late in games. The 6-foot-10, 250-pound O’Quinn has evolved into a leader for Orlando’s young and energetic second unit. O’Quinn has been a player willing to do the dirty work, as evidenced by his 5.1 rebounds a game in January and February and his 23 boards in the past two games. Of late he’s also delivered several game-turning, emotionally-charged plays, such as his two-block sequence in a win against Detroit a couple of weeks back; his clutch pick-and-roll jumper late in double overtime in the win against New York; his dazzling steal-and-dunk on Sunday; or the fourth-quarter put-back stuff that ignited the Magic past the 76ers.

``Kyle just has that ability to be patient on the floor and then make things happen,’’ Vaughn gushed. ``(O’Quinn and fellow reserve E’Twaun Moore) have been putting in lots of work and staying after and watching film. Their preparation has been really good and that’s why they are finding success.’’

O’Quinn didn’t have a spot in the regular rotation early in the season, but he pushed his way into consideration by continuing to stay engaged and work with coaches before and after practice. His development hastened Orlando’s desire to buy out the contract of power forward Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis, a move that freed up more playing time for O’Quinn, who has even played some at power forward alongside of center Nikola Vucevic.

For the season, O’Quinn is averaging 4.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in 14.7 minutes per game. But a more in-depth breakdown of his statistics better tell his improvement of late. He averaged nearly 6.0 points and 5.1 rebounds in January and February, and in the two games so far this month he’s averaged 11 points, 11.5 rebounds, a block and two assists a game. He’s played at least 14 minutes in each of the past nine games, further proving that his hard work in practice has paid off and he’s become a fixture of the rotation.

``I’ve put in the same work that any pro would put in. I do a little extra sometimes just to get myself over, but it’s all coming together for me because I’m learning while I’m (putting in the extra work),’’ said O’Quinn, who will turn 24 years old later this month. ``It’s not like I’m doing (the extra work) just to have people notice it. I’m working to get better. I feel like I do deserve (the success), and I’ll continue to do what I’m doing.’’

One thing that O’Quinn is doing that impresses those around him is make smart passes from the high post. He is arguably the team’s second-best passer behind veteran point guard Jameer Nelson because of his ability to thread the proverbial needle between two defenders and hit a cutting teammate. Whether it’s finding Victor Oladipo slashing down the middle, Maurice Harkless cutting along the baseline or Moore on the wing for a 3-pointer, O’Quinn has a surprising knack for making the right play with the ball in his hands.

O’Quinn’s passing knack has come as somewhat of a surprise to Vaughn and others on the Magic because of his late-bloomer status in basketball. The Queens, N.Y. native didn’t start playing the sport until he was a junior in high school, and his only collegiate scholarship offer was to Norkolk State in Virginia. O’Quinn announced himself to the basketball world in 2012 when his underdog squad stunned second-seeded Missouri in the NCAA Tournament. Still, O’Quinn had plenty to learn when he got to the professional level as many of the concepts in the NBA were foreign to him because of his limited basketball foundation in high school and college.

Because he is a quick learner and a hard worker, O’Quinn has evolved into a key piece of Orlando’s second unit and a spiritual leader throughout the team. Teammate Tobias Harris, O’Quinn’s workout partner throughout the offseason in Orlando, marvels at the progress that the second-year center has made.

``Kyle is playing with a lot of energy and passion out there on the court. He’s taken his role that Coach has given him and he’s taken advantage of it,’’ said Harris, who scored a career-best 31 points on Sunday. ``Kyle comes to work every day. He’s energetic, he communicates out there on the floor and he puts his work in, so there’s no reason he shouldn’t be out there shinning.’’

As for passing the ball, O’Quinn had a beauty of a pass on Sunday night to jump-start the sluggish Magic. He stopped a Philly fastbreak by jumping in front of an Eric Maynor pass to Thaddeus Young. Just before the ball was about to go out of bounds, O’Quinn wisely batted it ahead to Moore. Not done on the play, O’Quinn sprinted the length of the floor and took a pass from Oladipo for a thunderous dunk.

Moments like that are why teammates marvel at O’Quinn’s high basketball IQ, even though he says sheepishly: ``I can’t tell you where (his basketball IQ) came from. I don’t how to judge IQ; I can’t tell you what I score on an IQ test, but if (Vaughn) says it, I guess it’s true.’’

That high IQ is why Vaughn doesn’t mind the ball being in the O’Quinn’s hands late in games. ``Designated in-bound passer late in games’’ might not be a sexy role, but it’s an important one, and one that the Magic feel totally comfortable putting O’Quinn in.

``His ability to pass the basketball is pretty unique, especially for a guy who started the game late,’’ Vaughn said. ``The basketball feels comfortable in his hands. As he continues to play more, he’ll continue to get more comfortable and hopefully we’ll see a lot more from him.’’