Kelly Oubre’s third year in the NBA was truly a tale of two seasons. During the first half of the season, the question was not if the Wizards should pencil him in as a long-term fixture on the roster, but if they could even afford to keep him around given the team’s cap issues. His numbers compared very favorably with another talented wing in their third NBA season:
His youthful exuberance and erratic decision making at showed in his higher foul and turnover rates, as well as a lower assist rate. At the same time, he had a higher true shooting percentage than a player who is now one of the league’s best shooters, and averaged more points per 36 minutes, despite playing a bench role.
You might know Player X better as Otto Porter, who put those numbers up through the first 49 games of his third NBA season, when he first became a full-time starter in the 2015-16 season. Porter took a big step forward in the final third of the season that foreshadowed his growth the following season. Kelly Oubre did not.
There’s slumping and then there’s what Oubre did at the end of the season. His shooting (and rebounding) declined severely as his usage increased. As a result, the team spiraled downward. Yet for Scott Brooks, Oubre’s decline on the defensive end was more troublesome than his shooting woes:
“Yeah, you know what? He hasn’t shot the ball well, but I’m more concerned about him getting blown by on defense. Seems like every time his man is scoring on him. He has to step up and start playing some defense if he wants to continue to play.”
It isn’t good when someone who should be a quintessential 3&D in today’s NBA isn’t making threes or playing solid defense. Oubre’s issues were compounded by the team’s lack of wing depth. If the Wizards had more options on the wing, perhaps Brooks could have followed through on his threat to bench him; however roster construction wouldn’t permit it.
Yet even in his slump, Oubre still had moments that illustrated his potential. In the Wizards’ two playoff wins, he limited the Raptors to 4-of-19 shooting on possessions where he was the primary defender, and he forced four turnovers in each win.
He entered Game 3 with the Wizards down 27-20 and made the kind of immediate defensive impact Brooks was looking for earlier in the month. The Kelly Oubre Experience changed the tone of the game for Washington:
The Kelly Oubre experience, Part 1 pic.twitter.com/3GS7iDvUkh— Oz (@OBtoojiveforyou) April 21, 2018
Part 2 pic.twitter.com/fsFcHvxMkK— Oz (@OBtoojiveforyou) April 21, 2018
Part 3 pic.twitter.com/8wgNv3kfR8— Oz (@OBtoojiveforyou) April 21, 2018
Back to Kelly...his energy changed the ballgame pic.twitter.com/cJfwzHwhwq— Oz (@OBtoojiveforyou) April 21, 2018
In Game 6, he had an opportunity to build on his positive play as he had to fill in for the injured Otto Porter. It did not go well. He shot 1-of-7 from the field, allowed opponents to shoot 4-of-9, and only forced one turnover. The energy that we saw in Games 3 and 4 was missing and the Wizards were summarily dismissed from the playoffs.
Now, he is entering the last year of his rookie contract and the Wizards need to decide how to approach extension talks with him. The team has backed itself into a corner where it lacks depth and doesn’t have the resources to sign a quality player if they let him leave in free agency. However, the team also can’t afford to add more bloated salary to their cap sheet.
So where does this leave Oubre as he enters an all-important summer? The process of fixing what went wrong to end season starts with his work with Drew Hanlen, Founder and CEO of Pure Sweat Basketball. We asked him about what went wrong for Oubre at the end of the season and got his thoughts on the next steps in his development:
Kelly & I spoke in depth about this topic after the season. Part of it was due to fatigue & part of it was due to lack of discipline. We’re making some tweaks to his summer programming to ensure this doesn’t happen in the future.
Kelly will be able to finish better at the rim, shoot more efficiently off the bounce & create better next season. We want him to be more comfortable with the ball, more consistent with his shot & want him to take a leap in his ability to create for himself & others.
Oubre’s reputation as a style over substance player may lead some to think it will be difficult for him to realize his potential, but Hanlen sees things differently:
Kelly is one of the hardest working players in the league. He gets a rep for being a fashion guy but basketball always comes first for him. He’s a unique guy that has an artistic mind but he’s dedicated his life to ball & I can’t wait to watch him develop into an All-Star one day.
It’s important to keep in mind he is still the youngest player on the roster and there have been stretches where he has provided legitimate production, like he did early in the season. That’s extremely valuable, especially in Washington. The Wizards have quickly become an old team where the top players are cemented in their roles, which naturally leads to a certain sense of entitlement.
Frankly, the Wizards need someone with his disruptive abilities to shake things up and keep them from getting into a malaise. When his style, substance, and ability all come together like it did in Game 3, it can be infectious. Does he cross the line in his exuberance? Absolutely, but on a team that runs a heavy two-guard offense, they need a player willing (although not yet fully able) to kick down that door.
This season, the Wizards need to find out if he can consistently play with the ability to match his brashness. Unfortunately, what we saw this season did little to provide any clarification. The Wizards, like the rest of us, have little choice but to sit back and see where the Kelly Oubre Experience takes them next.