After losing 50 games and finishing with the fourth-worst record in the Eastern Conference the previous season, things were supposed be better for the Knicks in 2016-17.
They signed former MVP point guard Derrick Rose. They also secured the services of hometown product power forward Joakim Noah when they inked him to a four-year, $72 million deal. Adding him to a frontcourt that already included perennial all-star and future of Hall-of-Famer Carmelo Anthony as well as Latvian sensation first-team all-rookie choice Kristaps Porzingis was supposed have New York back in the playoffs after a three-year hiatus.
However, things got even worse.
Rose dealt with an ugly sexual assault case before the season ever got started and went AWOL, missing a game in January without warning. Noah didn’t play up to his contract, averaging five points and eight rebounds while playing just 46 games. Team president Phil Jackson publically bashed Anthony, all but ensuring the three-time gold medalist won’t return to the Big Apple next season and they began shopping Porzingis on the trade market after he skipped his exit interview following a 31-51 campaign.
In a season with few bright spots, the Knicks, led by head coach Jeff Hornacek, did its best to dim the shine of Norfolk State product Kyle O’Quinn. New York did a piss-poor job of managing the 6-10, 250-pound power forward’s playing time and repeatedly limited his opportunities after his most promising performances.
The 27-year-old averaged 6.3 points and 5.6 rebounds while shooting a career-best 52.1 percent from the field in his fifth season in NBA. He finished in the top 15 in the league in blocks with 1.3 per contest while playing only 15.6 minutes per game. He was ranked 36th league-wide in player efficiency (a stat which measures a player’s overall contribution to his team’s success on a per-minute basis) with a team-best rating of 20.6.
But the play of O’Quinn, the last player from an HBCU taken in the NBA Draft when the Magic selected him in the second round back in (49th overall) in 2012, apparently, wasn’t enough to garner the trust of New York’s coaching staff. Seemingly, every time he showed out. They sat him down.
On Nov. 2, O’Quinn logged his first double-double of the season, dropping 20 points and snatching down 14 rebounds in 31 minutes of action during a 118-114 win against the Timberwolves. Two nights later, he played a measly 14 minutes, grabbing nine boards in a win against the Kings.
On Dec. 13, he put up 22 points and 14 rebounds in a two-point loss against the Suns but got just 15 minutes of burn a couple nights later in a double-digit defeat at the hands of the Warriors.
O’Quinn recorded 14 points, 16 rebounds and tied a season-high with five blocks in a 106-95 victory against the Magic on Dec. 22, but saw the floor for a mere 13 minutes in a Christmas Day matchup up with the Celtics.
He went 10-for-15 from the field, tying a career-high with 23 points to go along with eight rebounds in 26 minutes, including a team-best plus/minus of +10, in an 11-point loss against the Nets on March 16. The next game, a nine-point loss on the road against the Clippers, he was afforded just three minutes of playing time and went scoreless.
Get the picture?
And those are just the most egregious offenses. O’Quinn played 20 or more minutes in consecutive games just once. In a three-game home stretch against the Clippers, Nuggets and Spurs (23 mpg) in early February he was good for 12.67 points, 6.3 rebounds and three blocks a night.
Still, he only started eight of the 79 games he played in for a team that was eliminated from playoff contention in a top-heavy East with seven games to spare.
Given his production and Noah’s paltry play, it’s hard to understand why the Knicks didn’t feature O’Quinn more ticks this past season, if for no other reason than to show him off to potential trade partners. Heading into the third season of a four-year, $16-million deal signed in 2015, he’s not a huge salary cap hit and has huge upside. At this point, especially if Porzingis leaves, being shipped out of New York could be the best thing for the former Spartan.
O’Quinn worked with the scraps he was given and showed he can be a solid contributor for a contender or, maybe, a starter on a team that has the slightest idea what its doing. The Knicks are neither.