In a season defined by maddening inconsistency, one surprising source of strong play for the Washington Wizards has their 2015 first round pick, Kelly Oubre Jr.
Oubre has been a lightning rod among fans and media from the day he walked across the stage at the NBA Draft in Christian Louboutin shoes. His name gets brought up a lot as a player the Wizards can use in a trade to dump salary or get back a player who can take Washington to the next level. Both of these ideas are short-sighted in my opinion; his growth has been the biggest bright spot on what otherwise has been an underwhelming start to the regular season for the Wizards.
After a disappointing end to last season, in which he only played six seconds in the team’s Game 7 loss to the Celtics, he went back to the lab with his trainer Drew Hanlen and refined his game. I had a chance to catch up with Hanlen recently and he raved about the work Oubre put in over the summer to improve:
“Kelly was as locked in as anyone I’ve ever had this summer. He did around 10 skill workouts per week and our main focus was improving his consistency from behind the arc. We moved his shooting pocket to the left side of his body and stressed balance and rhythm while shooting.”
The work is paying off. His numbers are up across the board, as you’d expect, but what really stands out is how much his numbers have gone up. His points per game average has jumped from 6.3 to 11.9, and his three point shooting percentage is up over 11 percent from last season. Despite starting only nine games, Kelly has scored in double figures in 31 of the team’s 45 games, including each of the last six and 14 of his last 16.
To put his growth in better context, here are his per 36 numbers this season along with Otto Porter’s from his third season:
Oubre is averaging more points, rebounds, free throw attempts, and blocks than Porter on a higher true shooting percentage. He is also 216 days younger than Porter at this point in their respective careers.
This is not meant as a commentary on if Oubre is better than Porter, rather it’s just to point out how well he stacks up with a player who went on to develop into one of the most efficient players in the NBA, sign a max contract, and consistently be a part of the Wizards’ best lineups.
Oubre is already starting to have a positive effect on lineups like Porter. He has a +1.4 net rating for the season, in spite of playing most of his time with reserves. When he plays with John Wall, Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat, and Porter the team is outscoring opponents by 18.5 points per 100 possessions. By comparison, when you swap out Oubre for Morris, the team only outscores opponents by 5.1 points per 100 possessions.
On a team that has been criticized for lacking the necessary motor on a nightly basis, that hasn’t been a concern with Oubre. He plays hard, almost to a fault at times. The only Wizards who average more fouls per 36 minutes Oubre are Mike Scott, Markieff Morris, and Ian Mahinmi. Occasionally, this energy can also make him too aggressive with his shot selection. Take this unnecessary shot late in their game against the Magic, for example:
However, that concern is probably a bit overblown. He might take one or two shots a night that probably aren’t ideal, but considering he mostly plays with a second unit which doesn’t feature a go-to scorer, it’s going to fall on his shoulders to take some risky shots at times. In spite of that, he still averages less shot attempts per 36 minutes than Otto Porter did during his third season.
Also, on a team where there’s been a lot of debate over whether or not their third max player isn’t shooting enough in late-game situations, it’s refreshing to see a young player who is shooting well and isn’t afraid to let it fly. Wouldn’t you rather try to rein a player in instead of trying to get them to be more aggressive?
There are some other areas of his game where he clearly has more room to develop. He has improved at creating his own shot, but he still has a long way to go. He is just now showing an ability to finish with his right hand and it will take time for him to make it into a bigger part of his game. Hanlen pointed this out a critical part of the next step in his development:
“The next phase of development for Kelly will be playmaking. When he gets more comfortable attacking closeouts and taking defenders off the dribble, he’ll become the third playmaker that the Wizards need to take the next step in the Eastern Conference.”
Oubre is also still only shooting 36 percent on corner threes and 32.7 percent in the midrange, places he needs to shoot better to take advantage of the open shots he gets in the offense. Lastly, as Hanlen pointed out, 45 games does not make a season. Staying consistent is a key part of solidifying his place on the team moving forward.
The 22-year-old is just starting to scratch his potential and he’s still on a team-friendly rookie contract through the 2018-2019 season. The real discussion around Oubre shouldn’t be on what he can fetch in a trade but when he should get his chance to be a starter and what kind of early extension the team should try to offer this summer once he’s eligible.