New York Knicks: Kyle O'Quinn steps up in Joakim Noah's absence
Dec 2, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) drives against New York Knicks center Kyle O'Quinn (9) during the first quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

New York Knicks reserve big man Kyle O’Quinn has stepped up in 2016-17. Friday night’s win over the Twolves was the greatest example.

The New York Knicks (10-9) announced before Friday evening’s game against Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves (5-14) that Joakim Noah would miss his second straight game and fourth of the season due to a sprained ankle. Kyle O’Quinn would start in his place.

The Knicks dropped Minnesota in their building on Wednesday, but Towns shredded the New York frontline (O’Quinn included) for 47 points. Getting their starting center and alleged defensive anchor back would’ve been significant in a game like this.

O’Quinn has been much better than Noah in 2016-17 (not saying much), but he was abused by Towns in the first quarter on Wednesday. The super sophomore netted 22 points on an incredible 8-8 shooting performance. He shot 8 free throws in the first quarter alone.


Jeff Hornacek yanked O’Quinn after he picked up two fouls in the first five minutes and the 26-year-old only played sparingly for the rest of the night. O’Quinn might not have been able to handle the kid on Wednesday night. But that was Wednesday.

The Knicks went with O’Quinn again on Friday, and he was ready.

Towns was out of sync the entire game beginning with a brutal first quarter. He was held scoreless on 0-6 shooting and didn’t get to the line once. It was an excellent defensive performance by O’Quinn and spoke to the adjustments that he’s capable of making after just one game.

O’Quinn has been a good defensive player this season. So being shoved around by KAT was a little surprising.

Per NBA.com, O’Quinn is holding opponents to a field goal percentage that is 13.3% lower than the league average within six feet of the rim. He might not be as good as Kristaps Porzingis protecting the rim, but we can’t all be 7-foot-3.

Quick Noah Note: Opponents are shooting 4.5% better against him within six feet. So yeah there’s that.

Then there was the way O’Quinn played offense. Last night he was third on the team in scoring (20 points) but had a typically low usage percentage of 18.4%.

One of O’Quinn’s greatest flaws since becoming a Knick has been his inability to finish at the rim. In 2015-16, he was just 59.8% in the restricted area (the league average is 60%), but last night he was on fire.

O’Quinn was 9-11 from the field with 8 of his 9 makes coming at the rim. He scored two huge baskets off Porzingis missed free throws in the fourth quarter and had 10 points off his 7 total offensive rebounds.

KP was cold (2-12 shooting), so the Knicks needed someone to answer the call, and of all people it was O’Quinn.

He was a punching bag for fans last season after being inserted in and out of the rotation seemingly every week. But he got into better shape for this season, and the results are there.

After 18 meaningless minutes on Wednesday night (he finished with a +/- of 0), O’Quinn played 31 of the most significant minutes of his Knicks career. He finished with the second highest +/- on the team (+16) only to Carmelo Anthony (+21).

Per Marc Berman of the New York Post, Melo spoke fondly of O’Quinn’s role in Friday’s win.

“It helps to have another voice like that out there, especially a big,’’ Anthony said. “Last couple of games, he’s stepped up big time. Without Jo, he is filling those shoes.’’

O’Quinn might not be done as the starter, whether Noah’s ready to come back or not.

After the game, Hornacek was non-committal about Noah returning to the starting spot when he was healthy.

“We’ll see when that happens,’’ Hornacek said. “Right now we’re just happy. We just won a game.’’

Per Berman, when asked about remaining the starter O’Quinn wisely gave the politically correct answer.

“It doesn’t matter to me. Whatever coach decides to do, I’ll roll with it. Starting, coming off the bench — as long as I’m in the mix. Whatever he decides. What am I going to argue with him?”

“Joakim didn’t go nowhere,’’ O’Quinn said. “He’s still sitting next to me, talking to me every timeout, like a coach. Much appreciated.’’

O’Quinn’s performance may give coach Hornacek the problem of choosing whether or not he’s willing to bruise Noah’s ego by benching the struggling $72 million man in favor of a career backup.

Sounds like one of those good problems.

Chip Murphy covers the NBA for Elite Sports NY. You can find him on Twitter @ChipperMurphy.

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