When word Kyle O'Quinn began his rookie season, he didn't have much of a role. The Orlando Magic used the 49th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft on the big man from Norfolk State, but had Glen Davis, Nikola Vucevic, Gustavo Ayón, fellow rookie Andrew Nicholson, and Josh McRoberts ahead of him on the depth chart. As a result, O'Quinn only played in low-leverage situations, with the game's outcome not in doubt.
Fast forward to the end of January and O'Quinn secured a larger role with the club. An injury to Davis and McRoberts' inconsistency gave him an opportunity, and the opportunity grew larger on Thursday when Orlando dealt Ayón to the Milwaukee Bucks as part of a six-player trade. The Magic also dealt McRoberts to the Charlotte Bobcats for cash, which trade opened even more time for O'Quinn.
O'Quinn didn't imagine he'd have such an important role so soon. "Of course not," the 22-year-old said Saturday night as he prepared for that night's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. "You never predict injuries and trades like this, so you didn't know that in the beginning, but as the coaching staff says, you never know what's gonna happen. You sorta kinda wanna be ready and just accept the challenge, and as a team I think we're doing that."
The fact that O'Quinn is seeing consistent playing time has given him confidence in Orlando's coaching staff.
"It's not hard to believe coaches, but it's easier when you go through it yourself. You put a stamp on that and you say, 'Oh, man, you did tell me that,' so you go back to them and give them that credit.
"They put you on the court, it's for a reason: they have faith in you," O'Quinn said. "And your number keeps getting called. He wants you to keep working on things and also go out there in play."
O'Quinn would go on to play 14 minutes off Orlando's bench in Saturday's loss, contributing six points, seven rebounds, two assists, and a blocked shot. It was O'Quinn's 13th straight appearance, which is a strong enough sign that he's earned Jacque Vaughn's trust.
"He's shown tremendous growth from the first day we had him to now," Orlando's head coach said. "Just his pace that he plays with, the aggressiveness that he plays with, and you've seen lately his ability to make shots for us. That's something that he did at Norfolk State and that's something that he can do here for us as well."
In February, O'Quinn has shot 8-of-20 outside the restricted area, a respectable figure for a big man.
Nobody's sure what might be next for O'Quinn, but his newfound playing time is a positive sign for his growth going forward.