The Wizards' playoff run was a revelation to all of us. Certainly, we all had an idea that the Wizards could do well playing a more modern style, but few expected the Wizards to flourish the way they did against Toronto and Atlanta. In the days and weeks since the Wizards' exit, everyone has said the right things about building on what the team showed in the playoffs. Even Randy Wittman said in exit interviews that the Wizards were hoping to play smaller and faster at the start of the following season, creating optimism that the big, poorly spaced lineups are a thing of the past.
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Kelly Oubre will be worth the wait
Following their selection, Randy Wittman and Ernie Grunfeld both expressed that their new draft pick may not be ready to contribute right away. While true, there's still reason to like the pick.
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Last night’s draft confirmed in my mind that this change in philosophy is for real, however, in a more unconventional way. Instead of drafting a stretch four that would seemingly signal the transition toward a modern, pace-and-space offense, the Wizards decided to bolster their wing depth, going so far as to give up two future second round picks to move up and secure Oubre, rather than take one of the stretch fours (Bobby Portis, Kevon Looney, Jarell Martin, Montrezl Harrell, etc.) that would have been available at the 19th pick.
So how does Kelly Oubre help the Wizards move toward a more modern offense? Look at this season’s NBA champions. Some would point to the NBA MVP, Steph Curry as the primary reason for the Warriors’ success, but if one looks closer, it was their depth on wings that helped push them over the top. Other teams may a player or two like Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, or Shaun Livingston, but we've never seen a team have so many skilled wing players employ them so effectively. And when you add Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Draymond Green, who can also play effectively on the perimeter, you have five versatile defenders with incredible length and the ability to attack on the offensive end as well. While they were questioned for their lack of size all season, the Warriors proved that length and speed can make up for height in today's NBA, finishing the season with the league's best defensive rating.
If the Warriors are too lofty of a comparison, then take a look at Milwaukee. The Bucks, under new coach Jason Kidd, were able to build the second best defense in the league this season, and they did it thanks to incredible length on the perimeter. With Michael Carter-Williams, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounpo, Jabari Parker, (before his injury) and Jared Dudley, Kidd was able to employ "long ball", a version of small ball which prioritizes length and helps create a unique defensive identity that fueled Milwaukee's surprising growth into a playoff team.
These two examples are quintessential when analyzing why the Wizards drafted another wing player with Bradley Beal and Otto Porter seemingly entrenched as the starting duo of the future. When Randy Wittman came to D.C, one of the most significant changes he made to this Wizards team was crafting a strong defensive identity. Wittman forged the Wizards' identity over the last three years with big lineups that sacrificed offensive spacing for defensive muscle. Clearly it worked, as the Wizards finished with top ten defense each of the last three years, despite losing key defensive cogs like Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. However, Randy Wittman knew the team needed to evolve offensively to keep up with the rest of the NBA, even if it cost them size in the paint.
Still, being a defensive-minded coach at heart, Wittman undoubtedly wants to keep this defensive culture. As we all know, the NBA is a copycat league, and Kelly Oubre is a long, versatile player who helps the Wizards improve their length and versatility on the perimeter. With John Wall, Otto Porter, and now Oubre, the Wizards have put together a roster of incredible athletes with pterodactyl arms. Now they can use their length to overwhelm teams in the same way Milwaukee and Golden State did last season. Plus, we will see a faster more exciting team on the defensive end who can get their hands on everything and create turnovers to open up more opportunities for Wall in transition.
Whether or not you think Kelly Oubre is a player that will help this team long term, the fact that the Wizards traded up four spots to get him indicates a clear shift in philosophy. The Wizards want to adapt to the modern NBA, and they want to mimic what helped the Golden State Warriors to a championship. Perhaps Oubre, in his spiky shoes and colorful attire, had a point when he said anyone with him on the team is winning a championship.