Draft Decompression: Kelly Oubre and Delayed Gratification
Head Coach Randy Wittman, Team President Ernie Grunfeld, and the rest of the Wizards’ decision-makers had two main orders of business headed into last night’s NBA Draft. They needed Paul Pierce insurance (as the Hall of Fame forward decides whether he’ll stay or go) and they needed youth at the trendy but necessary “stretch 4” position. At the end of last season, it appeared Pierce insurance was necessary due to an impending retirement, but in the last few days, Pierce, despite the words of love that owner Ted Leonsis lobbed in his direction, reportedly decided to opt out of his $5.5-million player option and will decide between the Wizards and the Clippers, with Boston in hot pursuit. According to J. Michael of Comcast SportsNet, the Wizards feel confident that Pierce will return, which sounds grand, but means little until he shares the same sentiment.
The inclusion of a stretch 4 became a must when Coach Wittman had a playoff epiphany, realizing that smaller can be better and can produce better results alongside Washington’s young guards. Pierce played that stretch 4, but his age precludes him from doing it regularly, while Drew Gooden is too streaky and too good off the bench to be relied on for heavy minutes, or as a starter.
Enter Kelly Oubre and Aaron White, Washington’s first and second round picks in the 2015 NBA Draft, respectively.
Kelly Oubre was a top-10 recruit out of high school, who found himself on the bench and in Kansas Head Coach Bill Self’s doghouse due to his lack of defensive prowess. He started 27 of the Jayhawks’ 36 games and averaged 9.3 points and 5.0 rebounds, along with a Nick Young-esque 0.8 assists per game. He had a career-high 25 points in the first game of the Big 12 Tournament against Texas Christian, but failed to break double-figures in the next two Big 12 conference games or in the NCAA tournament, where the Jayhawks, the No. 2 seed, were upset by 7-seed Wichita State. The consensus on the 19-year-old Oubre is that he’s high on talent and potential, but low on consistency and “baskeball IQ.”
Here’s what NBA.com’s David Aldridge had to say about Oubre before the draft. It is worth noting that in his mock draft, Aldridge had Oubre going 24th to the Cleveland Cavaliers:
“Oubre was very inconsistent in college, but he’s done well in pre-Draft workouts, where his freakish athletic ability was likely to pop for prospective teams. He’d fit right in as one of the Cavs’ reserves, where he wouldn’t be asked to do too much but could fill the wings on the break while occasionally playing with a starter like LeBron James or Kyrie Irving, depending on matchups.”
Here’s what ESPN’s Chad Ford had to say about Oubre in his pre-draft chat:
“Well, Kelly Oubre is one of the most fascinating prospects of this draft, because again, he checks boxes. He checks boxes for size for position, and he has a 7’2” wingspan and he can be a 2 guard. That’s freaky. He checks size for a few skills. I don’t think he’s an elite athlete but I call him a smooth athlete, and he can shoot the basketball. He’s not an elite shooter, but it’s clearly one of his skill set, and he has the ability to defend. He has all the physical tools to do that. One general manager referred to him as basketball illiterate, and I think that’s the issue with Kelly Oubre right now. The physical tools are there, and even some instincts of the game are there, but his understanding of the game, his understanding about anticipating what’s happening, especially on the defensive end, and you saw this at Kansas, that one of the reasons Bill Self really struggled to play him at first because he just didn’t have a feel for what was happening on the court, and it’s very difficult to play anything other than on the ball defense when a player doesn’t really understand what’s happening with the offense…
“He’s been working out with Drew Hanlen pre draft, and Drew Hanlen has worked out Bradley Beal, he worked out Andrew Wiggins last year, and one of the things I love about Drew is Drew takes tape of players that you’re similar to and he starts to show you the tape so you can start to learn what these players are doing and you can start to learn the game. And then he takes what you saw on the tape and takes you back out on the court and trains you how to do that… He’s starting to figure things out. The training is there. So if he keeps working hard and he keeps learning and he keeps hungry, he could be one of the 10 best players of this draft hands down. But that’s what he’s got to do. He’s got to continue to be hungry, continue to learn, and continue to grow that basketball IQ because it’s just low right now.”
The best case scenario for Oubre is that he continues to develop on offense and defense and turns into former Wizard Trevor Ariza, who ESPN’s Jalen Rose compared him to just seconds after he was drafted. He could learn from Pierce and Otto Porter, and even find himself in a 3-guard lineup with Wall and Beal with Porter at the four and Gortat (or Nene) at the center position. Worst-case scenario is that his game becomes stagnant along with his basketball IQ, and he becomes Nick Young part deux—on some nights he’ll go for 25-35 points, but on most nights he’ll shoot the team right out of games (if Randy Wittman doesn’t bench him first).
That type of attitude would be perfectly serviceable for the 2008-10 Wizards squads, featuring Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and the aforementioned Swaggy P, but not a team that has designs on progressing beyond the Eastern Conference semifinals.
It is encouraging that in a limited sample size, Bill Self was able to impress upon Oubre that more defense equals more playing time. Coach Randy Wittman’s entire tenure has been based on that premise and it is hard to argue with his results (the Wizards ended last season ranked fifth in Defensive Efficiency). It follows, then, that Wittman may be able to squeeze even more defensive improvement from Oubre than Self did.
And then there’s Aaron White, 22, who the Wizards drafted at 49 (causing him to be overcome with emotion). He’s already tentatively slated to be shipped overseas to add seasoning to his game. He was a four-year player at Iowa who averaged 16.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game during his senior year. And, unlike Oubre, who came up short in the NCAA postseason, White saved his best for last. He had 22 points and 13 rebounds in Iowa’s first-round loss in the Big Ten Tournament, and he averaged 22 points in his two NCAA tournament games. Most importantly, White played both forward positions during his four-year career at Iowa, which makes him a perfect candidate—either now or when he returns from overseas—for the magical stretch 4 slot.
Here’s what Eric Laboissonniere of SB Nation had to say about White’s game:
“White is a 6-foot-9 forward that can stretch the floor at the next level. He played power forward and some small forward in college, which is something he will be able to to in the NBA as well. He is not a very strong forward, but he can get to the basket and score efficiently. White was one of the most efficient scorers in the Big Ten last season, and he averaged 16.4 PPG and 7.3 RPG in his last season at Iowa. White is not going to be the go-to guy for an NBA team at the next level, but he can do many different things in the NBA. He did not shoot many three-point shots in college, but he has the ability to knock-down long distance jumpers and attack the rim, which makes him a dangerous stretch-four. He is pretty athletic, which helps him score at the rim. He is a crafty defender because he has good hands, he averaged 1.3 SPG in his senior season at Iowa. White is a very intelligent basketball player and he always seems to make the right decisions on both ends of the floor.”
Here’s what ESPN’s Chad Ford has to say about Aaron White and the mind state of teams who pick players like him in the second round:
“The things that he brings to the table obviously are hustle, athleticism, and the question is is there skill level enough there and is he good enough at those things to warrant a second round pick. Here’s the other thing that people have to understand about the second round. The Sixers own like five picks in the second round. There are multiple pick situations. These teams can’t possibly have all these players on their roster, so you start drafting international players that aren’t nearly as good as Aaron White, but you draft them because you don’t have a roster spot for these other players, and so the second round is often a head scratcher, I think, for a lot of people that follow college basketball, and I think it’s partly where international players get a bad name. Think of all these busts that were drafted in the second round. Yeah, teams are essentially flushing those picks down the toilet. I mean, that’s essentially what they’re doing, like we can’t afford to have this guy on the roster, we need that roster spot for a veteran, we don’t want to pay the money, we don’t have space, so we’ll stash a guy over in Europe and maybe we’ll get lucky. Maybe he’ll turn out to be Manu Ginobili in a year or what have you.”
Last year the Wizards were without a draft pick but managed to sign Pierce, who, by season’s end, turned out to be a better teammate than any draft pick. This year, the Wizards picked Oubre, who may not blossom for another two years, and White, who will be overseas for at least one year. Which means the Wizards may not feel any significant effects of their 2015 draft until 2017, when current Thunder star Kevin Durant could be in the mix.
What was the alternative? Perhaps now would be a good time to mention Bobby Portis.
Portis was drafted by the Chicago Bulls with 22nd pick of the first round, which means the Wizards saw him, thought about it, and apparently opted to pick who they thought was the best player available in Oubre instead of the player who best fit their roster needs. Portis was the SEC player of the year in 2014-15, and averaged 15 points and eight rebounds during his two-year collegiate career. In two games against the semi-professional team that is the Kentucky Wildcats, he averaged a respectable 16 points and five rebounds. Chad Ford (before the draft) and John Paxson on draft night both praised Portis’ ability to play inside and out—which is a less technical way of calling him a stretch 4.
Unlike Oubre, who fell in the draft because of his high “bust” potential, Portis seemed to fall because, as Ford put it, “he does everything good, but nothing great.” The Wizards have yet to dip their toe into the free agent pool, and the Wizards’ brass could very well be cooking up something special to fill the stretch 4 void. But from a distance, it appears as if they missed a golden, and cost-effective, opportunity to upgrade at that position.
On a more positive note, the Wizards now have two young players who they may be able to count on in the future. In past years they have been without draft picks after trading them for veterans or players who have yet to make their way to the U.S. (hello, Tomas Satoransky!). Ironically enough, the Wizards have begun to stockpile assets for the future just when the team—as it is currently constructed with Paul Pierce—is on the brink of advancing to a place where no Wizards team has gone in nearly 40 years. That means that, after the Draft, the immediate future of the Wizards still hinges on Pierce’s decision, Grunfeld’s free agency plans, and the continued growth of Porter, Beal and Wall. Stay tuned.
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