Kelly Oubre Jr. played just six seconds in Game 7 as the Wizards lost to theBoston 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 likeGarrett 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 sinceTrevor 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.