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

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.

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Wizards at Suns: Bogdanovic scores 29 as the Wiz burn the Suns, 131-127

Bojan Bogdanovic leads the way with 29 points including a perfect 16-16 from the free-throw line as the Wizards burn the Suns, 131-127. John Wall added 25 points and 14 assists while the two reserve big men, Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith both had one of their best games of the season with 15 and 17 points respectively.

The Wizards were all business to begin this game. After a semi-slow start, Bradley Beal took things into his own hands connecting on three of his first four shots to give Washington an early lead. Wall would find Beal in transition for three on back-to-back possessions as the Wizards got out to an early 21-14 lead. The Wizards shot 50 percent in the opening period as they led, 38-25.

Things got very chippy early on in the second quarter. Jason Smith set a hard screen on Tyler Ulis which didn’t sit well with Jared Dudley. Dudley and Smith went chest to chest while Brandon Jennings made a few hand gestures while scuffling with some of the Suns’ players. Dudley and Jennings would be ejected as a result.

The frontcourt reserves of Mahinmi and Smith continued to provide much-needed production as Mahinmi was finishing baskets around the hole while Smith was hitting his mid-range shot as the lead was stretched to 22, 56-34 midway through the second quarter.

A combination of the Wizards getting complacent and the Suns catching fire let Phoenix back in this game. Phoenix used a 22-4 run and trimmed the lead to as little as one, but still trailed 68-61 at halftime.

That sluggishness carried over to the second half as the Suns outscored the Wizards 15-2 to start the third quarter at the blink of an eye. Washington started the half 0-10 from the field and was quickly in an 11-point hole, 81-70. Jumpers by Jason Smith and drives by John Wall for easy layups got the Wizards back in this one.

Washington countered with a 12-0 run of their own to regain the lead 82-81 and led, 94-92 after three quarters.

The teams traded baskets for much of the fourth quarter but it was John Wall who gave the Wizards some breathing room on some very nice drives in traffic and finishes at the rim.

Phoenix hit some desperation threes down the stretch but Washington would hit their free throws to close this one out.

Washington starts the road swing off with a 131-127 victory.

Bojan Bogdanovic continues to come up big

As mentioned, Bogdanovic scored a team-high 29 points as he went a perfect 16-16 from the line. He was also very efficient from the field where he shot 5-9 overall and 3-6 from three-point range. Brooks opted to go with the hot hand in Bogdanovic over Porter down the stretch as the Wizards closed this game out. I don’t know if this is a sign of things to come but it’s nice to know that Brooks has that option now.

Bench comes up big

Outside of Bogdanovic, Mahinmi and Smith played probably their best games in a Wizards uniform this season. Mahinmi scored 15 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and had seven steals as he logged extended minutes due to Gortat being sidelined with foul trouble. Smith, on the other hand, was 6-7 from the field and knocked down both of his three-pointers for 17 points off the bench. It’s nice to know that the Wizards can count on Smith to stay ready, a guy who’s received limited minutes since the All-Star break.

The reserves combined for a season-high 65 points tonight.

The frontcourt starters continue to struggle

The trio of Porter-Morris-Gortat stayed in their funk tonight. That trio combined for 14 points on a combined 5-19 shooting while Otto Porter missed his only three-point attempt. It’s not time to push the panic button yet but this is definitely a concern. Gortat was forced to the bench with foul trouble but Morris and Porter can’t seem to find their rhythm. Porter took just six shots including one three-pointer while Morris was just 1-5 from the field.

Fortunately, the bench stepped up for the Wizards tonight. In games past, this probably would have been too much to overcome for a victory.

What the Wizards need to replace from the players they lost over the summer

The Wizards spent this offseason looking to get younger and more athletic at several positions. With the NBA evolving faster and faster, there were players on last year’s team that no longer fit the bill or the scheme that this team was trying to implement so the front office let them walk. Much has been made about what the Wizards are gaining with their new acquisitions, but let’s take a moment to think about what the Wizards lost over the summer and whether or not they’ve done enough to replace it.

Jared Dudley

The Wizards were the 11th best three-point shooting team in the NBA last season,  much ado to the play of Jared Dudley. Prior to the All-Star break, Dudley shot a very impressive 46.6 percent from three-point range and you could even argue that he should have been included in the three-point shooting contest during All-Star weekend.

Dudley thrived playing in transition alongside Wall. With the Wizards up-tempo offense, Dudley needed to sprint out in transition, run to his spot on the floor, and John Wall would find him for an open three. Not a lot of dribbling, just a lot of catching and shooting as all 100 of his made three-pointers were assisted.

Aside from Dudley and Gary Neal (who played in just 40 games), Bradley Beal was the second best three-point shooter on this team last year shooting 38.7 percent from distance; 3.3 percentage points worse than Dudley.

If the Wizards are going to remain in the top-half of the NBA in three-point shooting, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter will need to knock down more threes and at a higher rate this season to fill the void left by Dudley.

Nene

When Nene arrived in D.C., the team was in array. In trying to clean up the mess left behind by Gilbert Arenas and the cast of characters alongside him; Nene was counted on to provide veteran leadership in a locker room that needed it oh-so-much. And he did.

On the court, Nene helped turned this team around especially during the 2013-2014 season where he was a key player in the Wizards’ playoff run. Before the NBA transitioned to the Stretch-4 concept, Nene and Gortat were a frontcourt to be reckoned with. As the NBA evolved, Nene’s minutes slowly dwindled as he was unable to stretch the floor with his jump shot and would have trouble staying in front of younger, more athletic players.

Even so, Nene was always a solid presence in the post both when he played power forward alongside Gortat and last year where he served as the team’s backup center. Nene found himself to be the focal point of the Wizards’ second unit as the team often dumped the ball into him on the block if they couldn’t score in transition. His field goal shooting percentage was the highest last year during his tenure in D.C. (aside from 2011-2012 where he played in just 11 games) and was still able to finish 68.1 percent of field goals on shots closer than five feet from the basket. 

Even though he became less mobile as he aged; Nene was still the gritty hard-nosed veteran that we’ve become familiar with. It looks like Markieff Morris will have no issues taking over as the enforcer for this team, but even so, the Wizards will miss the grit, tenacity and physicality that Nene brought every night. 

Garrett Temple

Temple would have games where he’d stuff the staff sheet and you’d think it was his coming out party; but would then have a clunker of the game the next night. Whether his shot was falling or not, Garrett Temple always gave it his all on the defensive end. Far too often last season, Temple was forced into situations outside of his comfort zone and was counted on to play heavy minutes with the injuries to Bradley Beal. Being the professional that he is, Temple left it all on the floor even though he was often outmatched.

Temple’s scoring seesawed all season as there’d be nights where he would score in double figures only to be held to four points (or fewer) the following night. Regardless, Temple gave maximum effort on both ends of the floor during last year’s tumultuous season. A feat not too many other players on this team can claim.

Ramon Sessions

The Wizards found themselves in the bottom half of the NBA in free throw attempts last season shooting 22.5 per contest. Don’t blame the inability to get to the line on Ramon Sessions. Sessions averaged 3.5 free-throw attempts last season, second highest on this team only to John Wall. Sessions averaged more free throws per 36 minutes (6.1) than several notable players including Blake Griffin, Gordon Hayward, and Carmelo Anthony.

Sessions was the spark that the second unit needed. Far too often the reserves had trouble scoring last season. Sessions would pick his spots in transition and attack the hole, keeping the defense on their heels. He didn’t always convert these transition layups but the threat was always there. Not too shabby for a guy who stands 6’3” and is just 190 pounds.

Lastly, for a team riddled with injuries last season, Sessions was the only Wizards player to play in all 82 games. He was never the biggest or most physical guard on any given night, but you can’t overlook the fact that he played with nicks and bruises and stayed fearless in attacking the rim even though he was often the smallest player on the court.

Reviewing Jared Dudley’s up-and-down season with the Wizards

Jared Dudley was brought in for his veteran presence and to plug the hole left behind by the departed Paul Pierce. On offense, Dudley was exactly the stretch-4 that the Wizards needed. He’s a heady player, would draw his man outside of the paint, and would force defenses to find him in transition, otherwise he’d burn them for a three-pointer.

Dudley averaged 7.9 points per game this season and shot 42 percent from three-point range; his second best shooting percentage from three-point range in his career. But just like the Wizards, Dudley’s individual season had its ups and downs.

The Good

For about two-thirds of the season, his three-point shooting was above or hovering around 50 percent when he was starting at the power forward position. Dudley was great in transition and John Wall made it easy for Dudley to get wide-open looks from three-point range or just inside the arc as he averaged 3.2 field goals per game and shot 48.6 percent from the field prior to the All-Star break.

Since Dudley did most of his damage from three-point range, this gave John Wall open lanes to drive to the hole or kick the ball out for an open three when necessary. When Dudley would drive to the hole, there’d be open passing lanes as the first unit’s offense was predicated on getting out in transition and spacing the floor.

When Dudley was involved and hitting threes, the Wizards were very successful. He shot 47.6 percent in wins, 36 percent in losses.

The Bad

Once the Wizards acquired Markieff Morris at the trade deadline, Dudley’s points, minutes and shooting percentages all dipped. Dudley played 7.9 minutes less per game after the trade deadline and his scoring average went from 8.9 points per game prior to the break to 6.2 points in the 31 games after the break. His three-point field goal shooting was even worse as it dropped from 46.6 percent to 32.5 percent.

Dudley never jelled with the second unit after being demoted to a backup once Morris arrived. Dudley benefitted greatly playing alongside Wall as he was able to get open looks from three-point range in transition. That all changed once he started playing with the second unit as the offense was predicated around post play. As a result, Dudley was forced to create his own shot or put the ball on the floor and drive more often, neither of which are strengths of his.

Still, even when Dudley did get time with Wall later in the season, he didn’t have the same effect as he did earlier in the season.

Dudley Shot comparison

Dudley made it clear on his recent appearance on the Lowe Post that he doesn’t really care about starting or coming off the bench, but it’s clear he struggled adjusting to his new role after the break. Clearly, some of the blame for his late-season struggles are due to the coaching staff’s inability to put him in a role that maximized his strengths, but at the same time, his struggles serve as a reminder he needs to be in the right situation to maximize his skills.

When Dudley was playing alongside Wall in a steady role, he was an asset to this team. When he was demoted to the second unit and yanked around more, he became somewhat of a liability as he was forced to play outside of his comfort zone.

Going forward, I believe there is a roster spot available for Dudley if he chooses to stay. He’s not the most athletic guy out there but is still a very heady player. If the Wizards sign a pass first backup point guard, he should stay. If they don’t, it’s probably best for both parties to part ways.

Wiz overcome late deficit, hang on to beat Rockets 123-122.

In maybe the wildest game so far this season, the Wizards hang on to win, 123-122 over the Houston Rockets snapping a three game losing streak. Eight Wizards players scored in double figures tonight led by John Wall with 19 points, 13 assists, and eight rebounds. Ramon Sessions scored 17 points off the bench and Jared Dudley was a key factor tonight scoring 16. For the time being, we can all breathe a sigh of relief.

The Wizards looked like a refreshed team in their first game after the players only meeting. The team looked focus, was able to run now that Dudley was in the starting lineup, and looked like a team with a chip on it’s shoulder.

Dwight Howard was hot early for the Rockets scoring 12 points on 5-6 shooting in the first quarter.

This game was chippy and it all started in the second quarter when Dudley was called for a flagrant foul on Dwight Howard. Howard looked to hug Dudley and got T’d up himself.

James Harden was his usual self scoring a game-high 40 points and hitting a three pointer with two seconds remaining as the Rockets led 62-59 at halftime.

The lead started seesawing back and forth between the two teams for the entire third quarter. Sessions scored 12 of his 17 points in the quarter as the Wizards used a 9-0 run to take a 90-88 lead into the fourth quarter.

Things heated up early in the fourth quarter. Howard and Nene were jawing all game and things escalated in the fourth quarter when the two big men got tied up and some pushing and shoving ensued. The players were T’d up and both were ejected from the game.

Whenever one team took the lead and looked to run away with it, the other team countered. Harden hit a transition three to give the Rockets a 116-110 lead with 3:30 to play.

The Wizards had an answer. They’d hack Clint Capela and get him to the foul line. Capela, who’s a terrible free throw shooter, hit just 1-8 from the line as the Wizards clawed back.

The Rockets left John Wall wide open as Wall would knock down a three to tie the game at 117 with 2:30 to play. The Wizards would get key stops down the stretch and knock down their free throws.

The Rockets had one last chance down one to take the lead but Harden missed the shot. Wizards win 123-122.

Team Effort: The Wizards are going through a lot of adversity and they responded even if it was just one game. The energy was high, they were making the right plays, and really just looked engaged for the first time in four games. The bench combined for 55 points including Nene who went a perfect 4-4 from the field and Gary Neal who was also a perfect 5-5 from the field. As critical as I am of Nene, he was a stud against Dwight Howard. Nene got under his skin forcing Howard off his game. Wall was a stud with his near triple-double and Gortat notched another double double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. It’s only one game but let’s enjoy it for now.

Weekly Wizards Wrap Up: 1-17.

The Wizards went 3-1 this past week with wins over Chicago, Milwaukee, and Indiana. The only loss came in a heartbreaker to the Celtics where Wall took the ball from end-to-end but just barely missed the game-tying layup. With the team starting to get somewhat healthy, who’s trending up and who’s trending down?

Trending Up:

John Wall – If the Wizards were a top-4 seed in the east, Wall would be getting MVP consideration. But because the Wizards are currently sitting in the 10-spot, Wall will not get the recognition he deserves. During this latest four game stretch, Wall has averaged 25 points, 9.7 assists, and six rebounds. Let’s not forget that his backcourt-mate Bradley Beal only played in two games during this four game stretch. As a result, Wall was the high scorer for the Wizards in all four games. Wall shot 46 percent from the field and 42 percent from three-point range. Wall looks very confident rising up for jump shots and the opponents have to start somewhat respecting his jumper. As long as his percentages continue to rise, Wall will continue to be a headache for opponents. And seriously, where would this team be if Wall weren’t playing at such an elite level?

Jared Dudley – The rock solid Dudley continues to stay just that, rock solid. Dudley’s numbers can fluctuate on a night-to-night basis evidenced by his 15 point output against Boston but just three points against the Pacers the night before. Dudley always stays within the offense and is never one to force anything. Dudley shot 50 percent from the field during this stretch including 47 percent from three-point range. Dudley has also averaged 5.5 rebounds per game; often against opponents where he is overmatched. As the weeks go on, the front office looks smarter and smarter for scooping up the veteran.

Kelly Oubre Jr. – Oubre was forced into the starting lineup this week due to Otto Porter’s injury; and that’s a good thing for the rookie. Oubre averaged just 16 minutes per game this week but that was most likely due to his poor shooting (30 percent) during that stretch. Oubre averaged 4.75 rebounds per contest and logged two steals apiece in the Milwaukee, Indiana, and Boston games. It’s going to take a while for Oubre’s game to develop offensively but that’s ok, this team needs him on the defensive end. This week, Oubre was forced to guard Paul George and Jae Crowder. No easy task for any defender, especially a rookie. The injuries to other guys have been a blessing in disguise as Oubre can now get more and more minutes without worrying about getting yanked. The next step in his progression is his shooting. If he can increase his shooting percentages by 5-10 percent, he’ll be a force to reckon with as the season rolls along.

Trending Down:

Randy Wittman – To Wittman’s credit, he’s done an excellent job navigating through this week not knowing who would be active and who would be out with injury on any given night. Although the Wizards didn’t keep any of the four opponents under 100 points, they averaged 8.75 steals per night and forced their opponents to turn the ball over 17.7 times per game on average. So what does that mean? The Wizards have turned up the heat defensively.

The bad. The rotations are starting to make less and less sense. Last night, the Wizards decided to go super duper small for key moments of the game playing Wall-Sessions-Neal-Temple-Nene. Garrett Temple was playing the power forward position. Additionally, Wittman played Neal for almost the entire fourth quarter opposed to Oubre. Sometimes the Wizards coaching staff falls too in love with the small ball mentality and last night was the perfect example. The Wizards were crushed on the glass and surrendered 17 offensive rebounds to a not so big Celtics frontline. Finally, with 15 seconds left, Wittman opted to go with Oubre over a struggling Neal but it was too late. Additionally, Wittman has a good problem on his hands now that Nene is healthy (for the time being). The hard part is determining who to go with down the stretch in games. Not super upset with Nene playing over Gortat in the fourth quarter however I think Gortat is a better rebounder and much more of an offensive threat than Nene is.

Recap: Wiz drop Bulls 114-100 with balanced attack.

Please raise your hand if you have this team figured out.

In the latest edition of “The Wizards beat who on the road?” The Wizards knocked down the Chicago Bulls 114-100 in a game they controlled from the very beginning.

Seven Wizards’ players scored in double figures led by John Wall with 17, Ramon Sessions with 16, Garrett Temple, Nene, and Otto Porter with 14 apiece; and Gary Neal and Drew Gooden contributing 11 and 10 points respectively.

The Wizards took control early as they raced out to a 17-9 lead. They turned the Bulls over five times in the first quarter resulting in eight fast break points.

With the Wizards up just 3, Gary Neal knocked down a three-pointer and got fouled only to knock down a floater in the lane and get fouled on the next trip down the floor. Neal then found Oubre in transition for this alley-oop dunk:

The Wizards used the 18-2 run to take a 50-35 lead midway through the second quarter and led 62-48 at halftime.

Chicago would not lay down. The Bulls opened the third quarter on an 11-2 run to cut the lead to six, 69-63 midway through the third quarter.

The Wiz countered with a 7-2 run of their own to take an 83-74 lead into the fourth quarter.

Once again, the Bulls punched back and were able to get as close as four, 89-95. That’s when the Wizards defense tightened up and turned Bulls’ miscues into easy baskets. The Wizards would use an 18-4 run to pull away from the Bulls and win 114-100.

Wizards start out hot: For all that’s been said about this team, they don’t normally get off to slow starts. With Nene filling in for an injured Gortat, it was unclear what we’d get from the big man. Well, Nene was aggressive going right at Gasol for a quick four points to start the game. Active hands from the Orlando game carried over as the Wizards turned the Bulls over five times in the first quarter resulting in eight fast break points. John Wall led the way with eight points, four assists, and two steals in the quarter. Aside from a 6-0 run to end the period for the Bulls, the shorthanded Wizards set the tone in the first 12 minutes of play.

The bench comes up big: The Wizards’ bench scored 47 points tonight and outscored the starters 32-30 in the first half. Sessions was perfect from the field in the first half going 4-4 from the field and 6-10 for 16 points for the game. Gary Neal scored 11 points including a 4-point and 3-point play just seconds apart from each other. Drew Gooden was instant energy off the bench with 10 points and 12 rebounds. At one point, the Wizards were forced to use the ultimate hodgepodge lineup of Sessions/Neal/Oubre/Gooden/Blair but they kept the team afloat.

Grit: For all the talk about how this team lacks grittiness, every player brought it tonight. Players were hustling as evidenced by a chase down block from Kelly Oubre as well as John Wall denying Joakim Noah at the rim. Temple somewhat slowed down Jimmy Butler who scored just 19 points.

Also, let’s not forget the heady play by Temple who followed up Sessions on a missed dunk for an easy putback layup to keep the lead at bay. All in all, a terrific all-around team performance from the Wizards tonight.