Since the All-Star break, Kelly Oubre Jr. has seen a drastic reduction in his playing time as a result of the Wizards’ moves at the trade deadline. He’s only averaging 13.4 minutes per game since the break, after averaging 20.7 before. The discrepancy would be even worse if he hadn’t had a chance to prove himself again over the weekend when Markieff Morris missed two games with an illness and then followed it up with a strong outing in Boston.
But as we’ve seen throughout the season, it only takes a couple bad games for him to lose his grip on his spot in the rotation. He still has an opportunity to be an important player down the stretch and in the playoffs for the Wizards, but there are some important areas of his game where he must improve.
His performance on the defensive end against over the last three games against the Bulls, Hornets and Celtics show the potential he has when he plays with energy. Just look at how he hounded Isaiah Thomas late in Monday’s game against the Celtics:
Unlike some of the other wing players for the Wizards, Oubre has the ability to guard multiple positions and take the load off of John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter by taking on the opposing team's best perimeter threat.
There have been times during the season where he gets too aggressive on defense and gets himself in foul trouble. If the Wizards are going to depend on him as the primary wing defender, this simply cannot happen. He has to be more disciplined to keep players from getting to the line and limiting chances to get on the floor.
Simplifying his role on offense
As the season has gone on, teams have gotten better at exploiting Oubre’s struggles to create shots off the dribble. It shows in how his shooting percentages dip the longer he holds the ball in his hands.
If Oubre can stick to his strengths on offense, it would increase his efficiency on that end of the floor. He’s much more effective when he’s letting opportunities come to him, rather than trying to force the issue by making a play.
Hitting open shots again
Over half of Oubre’s shots this season have come when the defender is at least 4 feet away from him. In the first three months of the season, he shot 32 percent from deep when the defender was 4-6 feet away and 35 percent when a defender was at least 6 feet away. He also shot 32 percent on catch-and-shoot threes in this time period. Those aren't great numbers, but because his primary focus was to be a primary wing defender, they were acceptable.
Since the beginning of February, most of his shooting numbers are down. He is shooting 29 percent from 3 when a defender is 4-6 feet way, 11 percent when a defender is at least 6 feet away, and 17 percent on catch and shoot 3 opportunities.
No matter how well Oubre is playing defensively, it’s hard to keep a player on the floor when they’re shooting that poorly. Just look back at the 2015 playoffs when the Golden State Warriors deployed a strategy of cheating off of Tony Allen to turn around their series against the Grizzlies after Memphis took a 2-1 lead. Teams will gladly employ similar tactics against Oubre if he can’t take advantage of the open looks he gets on offense.
For Oubre, hitting open shots and taking advantage of these open opportunities are paramount to his ability to be in the rotation. The Wizards need people who can take advantage of opposing teams trying cut off Wall and Brandon Jennings’ penetration. If he can get back to hitting open shots at a better rate, it will give the Wizards yet another weapon to stretch the floor, particularly when teams want to focus on stopping Wall and Bradley Beal.
The playoffs are not a time for players to figure out how they can contribute. Now is the time for Oubre to simplify his offensive role, find his shot, and remind everyone what he can bring on the defensive end. If he can’t, it’s going to be hard for him to find playing time in the playoffs, which hurts both him and the Wizards this spring.