Kelly Oubre had his best game as a Wizard in a loss to Oklahoma City on Tuesday. Bradley Beal’s shoulder injury opened up meaningful minutes for the rookie early in the game, and he took full advantage of the opportunity. He scored 11 points in 25 minutes on 4-8 shooting, going 2-4 from behind the arc.
This left many here at Bullets Forever wondering if Kelly Oubre was ready to contribute to the team now, perhaps even being a better option than Gary Neal as Beal’s primary backup. I decided to evaluate Oubre’s play against Oklahoma City to see how sustainable it looks going forward.
Oubre has appeared in four of the Wizards’ seven games so far this year, and more than one minute in just two. Among rookies, he is 25th in MPG (10.6), sandwiched between Montrezl Harrell (10.8) and Bobby Portis (10.1).
The good: Kelly's shot distribution is excellent, with nearly all of his shots coming either within 10 feet of the rim or behind the arc. His season percentages are not where they need to be yet (25 percent on the season), but given that threes make up 47 percent of his shot attempts, this suggests that both he and the coaches expect that to improve.
Kelly Oubre's shot chart as of 11-12-15.
The bad: He has accounted for a higher percentage of his team’s total turnovers (16.7 percent) than assists (10.5 percent) while on the floor so far this season. He’s also averaging 6 personal fouls per 36 minutes. The assist and turnover numbers aren't awful, given the role he plays in the offense and the fact that the raw numbers are low (they work out to being about 1.7 assists and 1.7 turnovers per 36 minutes), but he needs to foul less.
Of course, all of this numbers come with a red, flashing, small sample size alert and should be thought of as descriptive rather than predictive - three games from now they could paint a totally different picture. To get a better sense of what all of this means for Oubre going forward, we need to see where the numbers are actually coming from.
The Eye Test
Oubre played a full 8:10 in the first half, when the Wizards trailed but the game was still winnable. On offense, Oubre almost exclusively hovered around the three point line. He didn’t hesitate to shoot when he had a little space, draining both of his threes in the first half from the wing. When he didn’t have space he passed; there was no dribbling into long twos, or leaning and fading to get space. In the second half, he added more off-ball movement, to mixed effect. His cuts weren’t always sharp enough to catch the defense sleeping, but he was willing to attack the rim whenever he caught the ball inside of the arc.
Defensively, Oubre had a slight tendency to ball watch and sag too far off of spot-up shooting threats, but his on-ball defense was as good as anyone else on the team, forcing his opponent (often Waiters) to give up the ball. He still needs to get better at fighting through screens, but he’s long and quick, so he recovered well when he went under picks.
If you want to look at the glass half-empty, you could say that Oubre isn’t really showing us anything we didn’t know he could do: Hitting threes that were created for him by others and being a pest defensively. He’s still got some floor awareness issues, mostly on defense. His handle, while improved, has a ways to go; His dribble closeouts aren’t going to scare anyone yet.
But if you want to look at the glass half full, the way Oubre played on Tuesday is completely sustainable, not a lucky fluke. If Oubre is going to be playable, it is absolutely critical that he hits his threes at a respectable rate (and I think he will - dude looked downright cozy shooting from behind the arc, even when the shot was contested). But as long as he will have something to contribute on offense that this team needs. Just as importantly, Oubre seems to know his limitations and isn’t trying to do too much, while still being very confident in his shot and willing to attack when the opportunity presents (this should be comforting to those worried that he would be Nick Young 2.0).
His issues on defense seem to be less about lack of focus or low basketball IQ and more about adjusting to NBA-style play, where shot releases are quicker and it’s common to have five scoring threats on the floor at once. His foul issues are also correctable, often coming when he was overly aggressive fighting for a rebound or helping on post players at the rim. Oubre can and should continue to be part of the Wizards rotation, even if in a minor role, at least while Alan Anderson recovers from ankle surgery. Oubre's success against Oklahoma City didn't come from flashy, low-percentage shots that happen to fall, it came from knowing exactly what he brought to the table and sticking to it.
All data from NBA.com.