Commentary

Draftees in the shadow of Superman

Andrew Nicholson, Kyle O'Quinn hope to fill expected vacancy in Magic middle

Updated: July 11, 2012, 7:40 PM ET
By Brian Windhorst | ESPN.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -- In case you missed the news, the Orlando Magic are in the midst of reconstructing their frontcourt and perhaps their entire roster.

Power forward Ryan Anderson, the current NBA Most Improved Player, is headed to the New Orleans Hornets this week as part of a sign-and-trade. Of course, the starting center for the past eight years, Dwight Howard, is also headed out of town someway, somehow in the near future.

But while that gets figured out, the Magic are working on a few lower-profile pieces that will be a part of their team next season. Knowing the team was facing losing both Anderson and Howard, new Magic general manager Rob Hennigan drafted two big men last month. He also arranged to acquire Mexican big man Gustavo Ayon as part of the Anderson deal.

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Fernando Medina/Getty ImagesAndrew Nicholson and Kyle O'Quinn have left a good impression after two days of summer league play.
With the 19th pick, Hennigan took Andrew Nicholson, a somewhat undersized power forward who played four years at St. Bonaventure. With the 49th pick, Hennigan took Kyle O'Quinn, who is undersized whenever he plays center and also played four years in college at Norfolk State. O'Quinn, you may remember, was the star of Norfolk State's stunning first-round upset of Missouri in the NCAA tournament in March.

Let's get this out of the way at the start: Neither of these players will make Magic fans forget about Howard. Combined they would be fortunate to average what Anderson produced on a nightly basis last season, which was about 17 points and eight rebounds.

There's also this: Nicholson and O'Quinn have been two of the most impressive rookies during the first two days of the Orlando Summer League. Nicholson looks like he's going to have a chance to get a lot of playing time as a rookie for the Magic. And O'Quinn has raised eyebrows of the scouts who are attending the event. He's going to get a chance to play somewhere.

Nicholson can score around the basket with either hand and has confidence in his jumper. In a league in which big men often arrive raw, needing to either gain weight or lose weight or seriously work on their skills, Nicholson is much closer to a finished product.

He's not super athletically gifted and has a bit of an odd gait when running, which won't inspire you at first sight. But watch him execute a drop-step spin move that leads to a dunk, as he did as part of his 24-point, 12-rebound debut on Monday, and he'll draw notice. It's not exactly the formula for a star in the NBA, but it is for a guy who will be a contributor right away. With the 19th pick, that Magic can't realistically have hoped for much more.

On Tuesday, the Detroit Pistons were double-teaming Nicholson in the post, an adjustment they made after seeing him tear up the Brooklyn Nets the day before.

As a result, he leveled off a bit, scoring 13 points and grabbing six rebounds. He struggled with the double teams, part of the reason he had four turnovers. It was one of the reasons the Pistons' unit, led by 24 points from Austin Daye, the most experienced player at this summer league, beat the Magic on Tuesday.

Nicholson will learn how to deal with the physical aspects of the game. It's the offensive skills that give him a chance to get rotation minutes right away.

"I have a natural knack for [offense]. I work on it daily," said Nicholson, who was a physics major at St. Bonaventure. "It's a physical game, you've got to get used to it."

O'Quinn is a different story. He doesn't have the skills Nicholson does or the overall talent but there's no issue with his physical play or aggression. Playing against Pistons center Andre Drummond, O'Quinn was on the all-out attack. While getting in Drummond's face and physically challenging him nearly every possession, O'Quinn drew the eyes of nearly everyone in the room.

His hustle is evident. He runs the floor with purpose, and he seems to relish setting screens and battling for rebounds. He had 11 points and 6 rebounds in 24 minutes while Drummond had 3 points and 3 rebounds in 22 minutes. O'Quinn had 16 points on Monday and is 12-of-18 shooting for two games, mostly as a result of fighting close to the rim. He gets there because he has some polished footwork, again a product of a four-year college player.

It's hard to predict the role he might have with Orlando this season with much unknown about who will be in uniform. But whoever coaches the team, O'Quinn has all the classic traits of a rugged backup who will pressure the coach to throw him out there even with a talent and size disadvantage.

"Nine or 49, it doesn't matter to me," O'Quinn said talking about his draft position. He didn't pull those numbers out of the air. Drummond was picked ninth, he was picked 49th.

O'Quinn very much knows the score; he has no delusions. But there's no mistaking the focus he had on besting Drummond, something that last year's No. 3 overall pick Enes Kanter of the Utah Jazz struggled with the day before.

"You have to come in with [a chip on your shoulder], you know what kind of swagger those major college guys walk into the gym with. Us Norfolk State guys, we don't have that," O'Quinn said. "Anything we want we've got to take. That's the mentality I've had for the last four years and I've rolled it over into summer league. … I'm not a guy who came out after one year or two years and had everything given to him. I know it sounds redundant but I worked for everything, I appreciate everything."

What O'Quinn is working for now is some sort of contract. Unlike the first-round picks, second-rounders usually are playing for a contract at summer league. Most common is to get a non-guaranteed deal for a year or two. But there are numerous examples of picks who played their way into guaranteed deals, even for more than the minimum salary, with strong performances at summer league.

Like the draft positions of his opponents, O'Quinn is quite aware of this fact. Like his game, he's quite blunt about it.

"Of course, I think about [the contract] all the time," O'Quinn said. "You have to come in and play. At the end of the day, it's not up to your agent, your mom or your dad. It's on you. If you don't handle that there will be no discussion tomorrow and no discussion next week."