Historically, when the Knicks have had the chance to spend money, they’ve done so with little restraint and with shockingly poor results — a combination that can blow up any franchise’s future. Free agency has long been a poisoned chalice for the franchise.
On the rare occasions they have been able to carve out meaningful cap space they have ended up inking injury prone question marks like Amar’e Stoudemire and Joakim Noah to albatross contracts. Even when they’ve been limited in their ability to spend the Knicks have managed to hamstring themselves as much as possible in order to lock up real difference makers such as Jamal Crawford, Jarred Jeffries and Jerome “Big Snacks” James.
The Knicks have always found a way to fuck it up worse than you thought.
Maybe that’s why Kyle O’Quinn turned into a fan favorite during his three year tenure with the Knicks. When the standards are that low being a success isn’t a particularly great achievement, but it is a meaningful one.
Like many past free agent blunders of the past he got off to a poor start to his Knicks career with a largely underwhelming first season. Unlike others he turned things around.
The Queens native put in the work during his time in the Big Apple to improve. He changed his diet and dropped weight to improve his quickness and athleticism. That hard work paid off with year-to-year improvement, culminating in a career season in 2017-18.
O’Quinn posted career highs in points, assists, FG%, eFG%, DRB%, WS/48, etc. Among the Knicks’ stable of assist allergic bigs his passing prowess was unique, especially with Joakim Noah’s exile.
With the second unit, O’Quinn was often used to facilitate offense from the top of the key as shooters and cutters looked to get free off screens.
In addition to his passing, what set O’Quinn apart from many of his teammates was his defensive ability — the Knicks allowed 2.5 points fewer per 100 possessions with O’Quinn on the floor per Cleaning the Glass, ranking him in the 70th percentile of all players. Along with Kristaps Porzingis, he was one of the Knicks’ only “two-way” players.
Although extremely foul prone, O’Quinn served as a quality rim protector, averaging 2.5 blocks per 36 minutes. Opponents shot 52.9% inside 6 feet when he was patrolling the lane, 9.5% worse than their average. He wasn’t the most fleet of foot in space, something teams often looked for and were able to punish in pick-and-roll, but his effort was always consistent.
While his on court play made him one of the team’s most valuable players, especially relative to his contract, the value he provided went beyond the box score. O’Quinn was a great teammate. He was always on hand to dap guys up on the way back to the bench and his bench celebrations were second to none.
It’s easy to forget sometimes, but all of this is supposed to be fun. And that’s something O’Quinn always made sure to remember amidst a never-ending cascade of losses.
Over the course of three seasons in New York O’Quinn transformed himself from a player with intriguing skills lacking any consistency to one of the better bench bigs in the league. With the league trending small that may not make him as valuable a commodity as it once would have, but it does make him an asset to a winning team.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, and for O’Quinn, there just wasn’t a whole lot of winning and wasn’t likely to be anytime soon. For a 28 year-old seven year veteran yet to taste playoff basketball, signing up for more 82-and-out seasons when more fruitful options are on the table is a tough sell.
Playing for the hometown team is nice. Winning games is nice too, and that reality, which isn’t a priority for the Knicks next season, led the bearded giant to leave the Knicks for the
hicks Indiana Pacers.
Although O’Quinn departs from Manhattan for one of the franchise’s historic rivals he leaves with our blessings. There are no hurt feelings and no debates over whether he was worth the money or why he left. In that way it’s very much not Knicksy — another sign of progress for the franchise.
It’s nice, hopeful even, to see that it is possible for somebody to improve and develop as a player on a team which has so often been a graveyard for NBA careers. It’s even better when it happens to one of the good guys and make no mistake, O’Quinn was absolutely one of the good ones. The Knicks won’t get to reap the full benefits of the player O’Quinn turned himself into, but we can watch from afar and root for one of the few players in recent memory who represented the franchise with pride and joy.