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Kelly Oubre made some improvements, but still has a ways to go

NBA: Playoffs-Washington Wizards at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

This is the second in our series of player evaluations for each Wizard from the 2016-17 season. In our first installment, we reviewed Markieff Morris.

Season in Review by Alan Jenkins

Kelly Oubre Jr. played just six seconds in Game 7 as the Wizards lost to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. And just like that, his season ended the same way it began; with one big question mark.

Coming into the 2016-2017 campaign, the expectation was that Oubre would step into the backup role left vacant as the Wizards opted not to re-sign guys like Garrett Temple and Jared Dudley. The hope was that the second-year player would slowly morph into a 3 & D player that the Wizards have sought out since Trevor Ariza’s departure. And although Oubre did improve from his rookie season, he still has a ways to go.

Even though Oubre struggled to score at times, Scott Brooks often opted to play him over Markieff Morris with the starters to close out games during stretches in December and January. However, when he spent time playing alongside the second unit, he struggled to score.

Although Oubre’s minutes essentially doubled from last season to this season (10.7 to 20.3), his scoring never came around. The second-year player worked with Drew Hanlen this offseason to try and improve his offensive game but it never came to fruition. He averaged more points this season (6.3) but that was due to his increased usage and shot volume.

In what looked like it would be another ho-hum season with just minor improvements, Oubre turned in the best stretch of his career starting with a 16 point and 7 rebound game as the Wizards beat the Cavs, 127-115 on March 25th. That kicked off a stretch where Oubre would average 11.4 points per game over the next 10 games, the best stretch of his career.

Unfortunately, that hot stretch didn’t fully carry over to the playoffs as Oubre’s numbers reverted back to the mean as he averaged 5.8 points and 2.3 rebounds; very similar to his shaky and inconsistent regular season numbers.

Now, Oubre enters a very pivotal offseason. Unlike Porter, he will not be forced into a starting role in his third season. That means Oubre will need to continue to make strides in his game keeping in mind that his minutes will probably hover around the 20-minute mark again next season.

In a recent interview, Oubre stated that he’ll be working out with Bradley Beal this summer to work on creating his own shot and setting up others. This seems like a big mistake. Oubre still has not become a knockdown shooter or a lockdown defender. To flourish as a key bench player next season, he’ll have to raise his three-point shooting percentage. His jump shot did look much cleaner this season than when he entered the NBA but the only issue was, it still never went in at a high rate. Shooting 28.7 percent from distance isn’t going to cut it.

Like his rookie campaign, Oubre would either shoot a three-point shot or would try to drive all the way to the hole and finish in traffic. There was an improvement here as Oubre connected on 57 percent of his field goals within eight feet from the hoop, but keep in mind that includes plenty of easy, uncontested dunks off of turnovers. When he tried finishing over seven-footers in halfcourt situations, it often led to poor shot attempts or turnovers before he even got a chance to get a shot up.

In addition, Oubre should focus on improving his perimeter defense. Wizards fans salivate over Oubre’s physical tools as he stands at 6’7 with a 7’1 wingspan, but he hasn’t become a great on-ball defender, yet. He still gambles too often on defense, is overzealous, and commits far too many fouls.

As Oubre enters one of the most important offseasons of his career, he’ll be best suited in trying to hone in his shooting and defense rather than worrying about creating his own shot. Because when it boils down to it, his evolution and ceiling as an NBA player most likely mimics that of Trevor Ariza and Otto Porter more than it does Paul George or Kawhi Leonard.

Behind the Numbers by Kevin Broom

Oubre is an intriguing player who looks better than he produces. While he excited, tantalized, and managed not to torpedo the team when he joined four of the starting five on the floor, his overall performance was not special.

His performance wasn’t unusual for a 21 year old getting his first taste of significant playing time. He showed flashes of major potential that suggest he can be a significant contributor if he puts in the work. As Alan said, this is likely to be the most important offseason of Oubre’s career.

Oubre’s numbers this season were unimpressive. Before the season, his projected PPA was 37. His actual PPA: 41. In PPA, average is 100, higher is better, and replacement level is 45. In other words, Oubre this season performed about as well as the Wizards could expect from a D-League call-up. What dragged down his score? On offense, low efficiency combined with low usage – typically, we expect players to be more efficient when they use fewer possessions. On defense, he undercut his positive attributes (long arms, quick feet, and a nose for the ball) with lapses in attention and excessive fouling (6.0 fouls per 100 team possessions). In the playoffs, it was more of the same – a PPA of just 37 in a limited role.

Basketball-Reference has 149 players identified as SF or SG with at least 500 minutes this season. I’ve included both for Oubre since he played minutes at both spots, and the positions typically have similar on-court duties. Here’s where Oubre ranks in key stat categories (per 100 team possessions):

  • MPG: 104
  • Offensive rating (individual points produced per 100 possessions): 94
  • Usage: 121
  • eFG%: 106
  • 2FG%: 33
  • 3FG%: 130
  • FT%: 103
  • 3FGA: 99
  • FTA: 86
  • REB: 40
  • AST: 143
  • STL: 52
  • BLK: 78
  • TOV: 32
  • PF: 147
  • PTS: 111
  • PPA: 133

And, here’s Oubre’s performance “EKG” for the season. The orange line is his season average PPA after each game. The blue line is his 10-game average PPA. Oubre’s swings in performance level were wild, even for a bench player. He had four games where his performance rated at approximately All-Star level or better (PPA 150+). Just 22 percent of his games were average or better, and only 32 percent rated better than replacement level. His performance was a net negative in 35 percent of his games this year.

Reminder: in PPA, average is 100, higher is better, and replacement level is 45.

Final Thoughts by Jake Whitacre

There’s a clear model for Kelly Oubre to follow if he wants to have a long, successful career in the NBA. Developing into a 3 & D player helps him maximize what he can do well and masks a lot of the areas where he doesn’t measure up. Especially on the Wizards, where they already have so much playmaking with John Wall and Bradley Beal, he doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel to be effective.

BUT, he has to be good at the two things that are right there in his role description, and he hasn’t consistently done either thing well in his NBA career. Only five players who took at least 150 threes this season shot a lower percentage than Kelly Oubre. And as was noted earlier, players can use Oubre’s aggressive style against him to get cheap trips to the foul line for easy points which undercut his value.

There’s plenty of time for Oubre to grow and become the player the Wizards need him to be, but the key to getting there is understanding more work needs to be done.