Kelly Oubre is full of fire, charisma and talent.
Yet at some point, it has to translate to consistent production—otherwise he will join the long list of players with immeasurable potential who never quite lived up to expectations in Washington, D.C.
Kelly Oubre is an enigma—unlike any other the Wizards have ever had, and that’s saying something. But the difference between him and the others is his commitment—he wants to be great, and his work ethic reflects it.
This past summer, Oubre spent most of his time with Drew Hanlen, who’s become the go-to basketball trainer for the stars. He was credited for spicing up Bradley Beal’s game, helping him evolve into a pure scorer and not merely a stand-still shooter. Beal’s individual success reflects the time he’s put in with Hanlen, as evidenced by the sauce he put on Reggie Bullock in Washington’s preseason win over the Pistons.
Oubre has improved at creating his own shot as well. He’s gotten better at taking defenders off the dribble, which allows him to finish at the basket with thunderous dunks. But he’s also shown some of the ugliness that’s slowed his progress. Oubre can be aggressive to a fault—he still forces difficult shots at the basket instead of making the extra pass, or gambles defensively when he should have remained disciplined on his assignment.
Going into his fourth season—and more importantly, his contract season—he has to prove that he can abate those poor habits. In the past, Oubre benefited from Washington’s lack of depth—he played almost 28 minutes per game last season and started 11 games due to injuries. He was counted on to produce off the bench—which, at times, he did. Oubre shot a career-high 34 percent from three and became a valuable 3-and-D player for Washington. He did what the Wizards needed him to do—get open, make the shots and defend.
But sometimes, it seems like Oubre is still learning how to properly fight inertia—not knowing whether to go for the difficult finish inside, or simply pass the ball and reset. Those small moments, though, are game-changers—and they are what separates the player who gets paid like a mere expendable addition to the team and the other who gets paid like a star.
In the first four preseason games, Oubre has given the Wizards more of the same—flashes of stardom, only to be negated by head-scratching decisions. For every dunk that Oubre has slammed on the baseline, he has taken a contested shot inside the 3-point arc. He’s scored in double-figures in three of the first four games, but it’s come in an inefficient manner. Through four games (excluding Washington’s win against the Long Lions), Oubre made less than 40 percent of his total shots and just 18 percent of his threes—a trend that is coming at an inopportune time for Oubre, who wants to collect a bag from Ted Leonsis, just as John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter have.
Some of this is out of control. Oubre isn’t intending to miss open 3-point shots. But much of his struggles are self-inflicted.
With a few tweaks—not forcing mid-range shots in traffic and restraining himself from gambling—Oubre can morph from a wave into the self-proclaimed tsunami that he wants to be. Until he learns how to contain himself, the Wizards will continue waiting for his breakout season—which might not come in Washington unless he learns how to appropriately release the storm within himself.