Photo by Fernando Medina/Orlando Magic
ORLANDO, Fla. — Kyle O’Quinn just doesn’t stop talking.
He’s hollering at Doron Lamb, telling him to watch out for the pick on his right. A shooter camps in the corner, and he shouts at Moe Harkless to stop cheating off of him. He yells “BLUE, BLUE, BLUE” when the Magic “blue” or “ice” a pick-and-roll on defense. The chatter is constant and never-ending. But O’Quinn’s basso bellow serves more than just a directorial purpose.
“It makes us run around like wild men,” says O’Quinn, with feral tones and an equally feral grin.
A bruising forward/center out of Norfolk State, O’Quinn compensates with his less-than-ideal height of 6-foot-8 with a condor-like 7-foot-5 wingspan and a frame to rival that of Colossus. His massive frame belies the agility and quickness with which he moves on court. His feet, like his mouth, never stop moving, shuffling and scuffing up and down, side-to-side, stepping out on pick-and-rolls before sprinting back to his man.
And O’Quinn’s motor, to borrow a phrase from ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, never stops running, and never falls below its highest gear. The only time he stops moving is either in the post, his body like a hundred-year-old oak tree that refuses to budge an inch, or when he sets his feet to take a charge.
In this, his second year in the NBA, O’Quinn has assumed the mantle of defensive lynchpin for this young Magic team, a role and responsibility he relishes.
“I let Victor [Oladipo] call the plays on offense. On defense, I’m the quarterback and point guard. I’m in the back line, so if anything breaks down, I have to be the last guy to tag a cutter or take that charge.”
O’Quinn’s perpetual dialogue is crucial to his directing of the defense. His teammates respond in kind to his yelling, acknowledging his directions and spouting some of their own.
“The coaches say that’s what defense is: just talking it out,” says O’Quinn. “[Summer League head coach James Borrego] will draw up schemes for us, but sometimes we might have a breakdown, and we have to talk it out on the court. You can’t play defense silently.”
Perhaps just as valuable as the cohesion his communication brings to the defense is the energy it conjures.
“I love it as a juicer,” O’Quinn says of his non-stop yelling. “When I’m yelling ‘PICK RIGHT, PICK LEFT, PICK RIGHT, DROP DOWN, WATCH THE ACTION,’ it juices us up, it brings the energy. And when we get a big stop, the gym erupts.”
Don’t think that O’Quinn is merely all bark and no bite. He can make his presence felt on offense, too.
In the Magic’s first two games at the Orlando Pro Summer League, O’Quinn’s already displayed a much-improved offensive game, specifically a mid-range jump shot extending to just beyond the free-throw line. O’Quinn shot 45 percent from mid-range in his rookie season, albeit on an extremely low 68 field goal attempts, per NBA.com. It’s a shot that O’Quinn admits he wasn’t comfortable taking last year. This summer, however, the Magic have encouraged him to take it.
“It’s a comfortable shot for me, but it’s tough to take.” O’Quinn explains this seemingly conflicting mindset by saying “[If] I miss the first one, it’s over. I probably won’t shoot one for a week. You want to do anything to help your team win, and a miss isn’t helping. But this whole organization, from Rodney McGruder, to the coaches, to everyone down the list, has been telling me to keep shooting it.”
That encouragement, the knowledge that the coaches actively want him to shoot, further comforts O’Quinn, as he knows that a single miss won’t immediately land him on the bench.
“If it goes in, that’s a plus for us. If I miss it, it’s no big deal,” he says of that added comfort.
It’s a mindset O’Quinn knows he must indoctrinate within himself if he’s to grow as a player, saying “that’s how great players play,” specifically citing Kevin Garnett. “I like to model myself after KG. I know he doesn’t care about missing, so I know that’s how I have to play if I want to get to that level.”
It makes sense, of course, that O’Quinn would model himself after KG, given the latter’s penchant for effusive ranting. And while O’Quinn may not yet be at Garnett’s level, he’s more than willing to put in the work necessary to reach that plateau. What better place to do so than Summer League?
“I have to start somewhere, so I think I’m going to start right now.”