Victor Oladipo’s pitch to prospective free agents, which stressed the franchise’s team-first culture along with the opportunity to “come be a part of something bigger than themselves,” seems to have been of like mind with newcomer Kyle O’Quinn, given that the reserve center echoed nearly the same sentiment when he was introduced by the Pacers last month.
“I know that’s one thing I kind of pat myself on the back about, is just being a teammate,” Oladipo’s former teammate with the Orlando Magic said while discussing coming to Indiana with Pacers.com. “being somebody on the team that guys can trust (and) coaches can trust, which leads to bigger and better things than yourself.”
Already exhibiting the type of positive influence he could perhaps have on the younger players in the locker room next season, it’s easy to understand why early indicators upon his signing were that he was tapped to takeover where Al Jefferson left off as a mentor doubling as the team’s fifth big.
However, assuming the backup four spot is slated to be divvied up between experimenting with upping the minutes load of the Turner-Sabonis pairing, getting T.J. Leaf (or, maybe, Alize Johnson) reps following an underwhelming performance at Summer League, and perhaps allowing Bojan Bogdanovic to moonlight some at power fauxward, O’Quinn and his efficient production per-36 minutes might end up finding a key left under the mat to the rotation later in the season (see: Trevor Booker) in addition to providing situational depth.
For more on the 28-year-old’s fit in terms of position as well as how his three increasingly productive seasons with the New York Knicks might apply to the Pacers, Matthew Miranda from Posting and Toasting agreed to cross enemy lines for a wide-ranging Q&A with Indy Cornrows. (As a gesture of goodwill, we promised to put a temporary embargo on any direct mention of the player who scored eight points in nine seconds in the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals).
Averaging 7.1 points on 58 percent shooting to go with 6.1 rebounds, O’Quinn had his best NBA season last season with the Knicks, so how surprised were you that the bearded backup center hailing from Queens declined his $4.2 million player option only to sign a marginally more lucrative one-year, $4.5 million contract with the Pacers?
I wasn’t surprised O’Quinn opted-out. Most Knick fans expected him to; the hope was that his play and popularity coupled with him being a native New Yorker could help the Knicks retain him for maybe $8-$10M per. Even given the dearth of teams in the market looking to spend money on bigs this offseason, it was shocking and disappointing to me to lose O’Quinn for essentially the same salary he opted-out of.
What explanation is there for why, or perhaps how, O’Quinn managed to produce at a high level in limited minutes while steadily improving his numbers each of the three seasons he was with the Knicks despite having his playing time fluctuate on what were progressively bad teams in terms of record?
O’Quinn struggled mightily his first season in New York, to the point that I openly lamented the loss of Jason Smith, whom he’d replaced. His first year as a Knick was the culmination of three years of downward productivity. From there he seemed to realize and accept his best self as a player. He began shooting less and passing more, and it really opened up his game. One of the early-season joys last year was the chemistry that developed between O’Quinn and Doug McDermott. You’re going to have fun watching those two together.
Kevin Pritchard repeatedly referred to Al Jefferson last season as the team’s “most important player” because of the positive influence he had in the locker room. O’Quinn has already been earmarked to assume that role, and he described himself as a “pure teammate” at his introductory press conference. In what ways did that descriptor manifest itself during his tenure in New York?
O’Quinn was one of the most popular Knicks both in the locker room and among fans. He’s good with the media, too. But there aren’t really stand-out moments or inspirational speeches to cite. He honestly projects such joy and love in so much of what he does, it makes people around him appear to enjoy life more. Anyone who’s ever held a job knows how valuable that is.
Basketball Reference estimates that the light-hearted 28-year-old played 99 percent of his minutes last season at center, but Indiana’s least solidified position in the rotation for next season is backup four. If slotted next to Sabonis, is it realistic to think the pairing’s rebounding and shared ability to facilitate offense would be enough to compensate for their perimeter defense and underdeveloped range from beyond the 3-point line, or should the expectation be that O’Quinn is best suited waiting his turn at center?
O’Quinn is a smart player. I think he and Sabonis could play well together in spots, though they may struggle against teams that go super-small, like a Washington lineup featuring Jeff Green at center. But O’Quinn is going to be on a good team for the first time. I suspect the talent around him will let him raise his game to new heights; asked to do less, his aggression could actually lead him to do more, with greater efficiency. The upgrade in the talent around him will outweigh whatever inherent advantages he enjoys as a center versus a power forward.
Alright, last question. With Lance Stephenson leaving for the Lakers, the Pacers lost the ultimate meme muse. From bench celebrations to accidentally hitting teammate Marshall Plumlee in the face, should O’Quinn be looked to as the next man up to fill some of the gif-waiting-to-happen void?
Yes. God yes.
Kyle O'Quinn turning into one of the league's premier bench celebrators pic.twitter.com/c24V1wXkU3— Kenny Ducey (@KennyDucey) November 8, 2017
That Pacers bench next year is going to be .— PerkinsFor3 (@perkinsfor3) July 31, 2018
Cory Joseph // Tyreke Evans //Doug McDermott // Domantas Sabonis // Kyle O'Quinn. pic.twitter.com/XIvSrDUa4w
New trending GIF on GIPHY! funny, happy, sports, smile, nba, basketball, sport, hello, hi, wave, hey, knicks, whats up, new york knicks, hey there, hello there, hi there, nyk, oh hey, ny knicks, hi guys, kyle o'quinn, kyle oquinn, kyle o quinn, cute hello, oquinn pic.twitter.com/WqWuncfZb1— HeathrowGatwickCars (@HGcars_Taxis) March 19, 2018