Kelly Oubre, Jr. in the Old/New Year — A Wizards Preview Series | Wizards Blog Truth About

Kelly Oubre, Jr. in the Old/New Year — A Wizards Preview Series

Updated: October 21, 2015

[TAI’s preview/review series on the Wizards going forward with a look-back on those who graced the team in the past season continues. First up was Kevin Seraphin; then Paul Pierce; Alan Anderson; Otto Porter; Kris HumphriesRasual Butler; Ramon Sessions; and Andre Miller. Now: Kelly Oubre, Jr., by Kyle Weidie. Read on…]


I caught myself rewatching the final Wizards 2015 summer league game about a month after it happened in mid-August. I wanted to see if I could learn more about Kelly Oubre, accused knucklehead, mysterious talent, visibly flashy human. Selecting Oubre—trading up with the Atlanta Hawks to pick him—came out of the blue. We might look back and see him as one of those gems left uncovered by mock drafts and rumors. Is he a gem?

Kevin Seraphin was the last of the Wizards drafted big men. He has since departed for New York … and the squeaky wheel that cuts off flow to the big pipeline when turned to the right is as tight as it can be. When you think of Jan Vesely, JaVale McGee, Oleksiy Pecherov, Andray Blatche, and Peter John Ramos, this franchise hasn’t developed a big man into a long-term starter in a decade. Admittedly, Blatche was a ‘find’ of sorts at pick 49 in the second round; McGee, now in Dallas, could turn a new leaf; Vesely is now a B-list star in Europe (and this NBA preseason he led his Turkish team to a victory over the Brooklyn Nets with a game-high 18 points); Pecherov dropped a gazillion points in a summer league game—in 2015!; and “Party John” is still breathing on this earth, we presume.

The Wizards invested in Oubre, a mold of the perfect 3-and-D wing body, a wiry figure like Otto Porter, and maybe someone with the potential to be a better-on-offense version of Trevor Ariza. Was such posterity aimed at the changing NBA small-ball landscape, or a hedge against historical weakness in the draft?

You guessed it: I’m trying to talk myself out of loving Bobby Portis, a bigger body taken 22nd overall by the Chicago Bulls out of Arkansas, and a player who was fully entrenched on the radar of Wizards draft prognosticators. Portis is 6-foot-9.5 without shoes to Oubre’s 6-foot-5.75 (although Oubre has a quarter-inch longer wingspan at 7-foot-2.25), and Portis has 40-plus pounds on Oubre with more rugged rebounding skills. And Portis was popping 3s in Las Vegas. (Portis shot 41.7%, 5-12, to Oubre’s 25%, 8-32, in summer league.) Another also: Portis has had a very strong preseason, essentially pacing the Bulls in rebounding per 100 possessions (19.7) and shooting 44.4 percent from deep, leading some to wonder if Portis will crack an already-crowded Chicago frontcourt rotation sooner than expected.

It’s going to be years before we find out which player would have been the better choice for Washington, which is why it’s best to bury the woulda/coulda NBA Draft time capsule early so that it can stew blog fodder later. We analyze now and the Internet is forever. What we currently know is that Oubre showed enough in Vegas, layered by flashes this preseason, to be intriguing to the public-watching, NBA-aligned eye … in a good way. And this sentiment lurks well below all the actual work the team put into scouting Oubre before gambling on his upside.

Yet, according to Chad Ford on a Grantland podcast the day after the NBA draft, an anonymous general manager assessed that Kelly Oubre could not read the game of basketball. “Basketball illiterate,” enticed the subsequent blog headlines—baited and clicked; the things that we give credence to. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, concluded the Web. The gist of Ford’s assessment, in also speaking with the renowned Drew Hanlen, someone who has been paid to train Oubre (and Bradley Beal, amongst other NBAers), was that Oubre possesses ‘the’ talent but needs to keep training and watching film to succeed. Glad that’s been determined. You could say the same for every talent entering the pros.

Back to the summer league. Like all rookies, defensively Oubre has a long way to go; unlike most rookies, his instinct is ahead of schedule, according to the eye test. What impressed this particular viewer was the tennis match-like movement of his neck. His head was on a swivel, as some old ball coach would say. Oubre rarely got caught watching the basketball, and instead constantly glanced from direction to direction, over and over and over. He was tuned in, not just in defending his own man, but in being aware of all the action on court. (Although there were certainly instances where Oubre’s hands were not as active in passing lanes as they could have been.) In other words, he can read NBA offenses, at least a little bit.

Oubre also wins points because he’s a lefty. The Baltimore-Washington franchise had its heyday with lefties from the late-’60s to early-’80s with Jack Marin transitioning to Mike Riordan transitioning to Kevin Grevey—in that order they rank as the top three left-handed shooters in franchise history in total Win-Shares, per Otherwise, the only lefties worth their salt since have been Calbert Cheaney and Trevor Booker. Oubre’s above-average hand size, which measured at 9-inches long and 9-inches wide at the NBA Draft Combine, generally puts him in the class of other quality NBA wings such as Jimmy Butler, Iman Shumpert, and Khris Middleton.

“You get him in space and let him go, and you can’t guard him,” according to one Western Conference scout via Oubre’s draft profile. During the summer league Oubre displayed an uncanny ability to get to the basket, but also a tendency to stop and pull-up after first contact. As he gets stronger, he’ll need to learn out to absorb that contact and keep going, and force the referees to call a foul.

“But when the game slows down, he can get in trouble. Now, can he get better? Yeah. Can he improve his shot? Yeah,” claimed that same Western Conference scout. What I’ve seen of Oubre’s jump shot is that he gets nice extension and follow-through with that left arm, and his right hand and arm does not interfere much with his shooting motion. Like a lot of tall guys, Oubre could use some more lift on his jumper. Then again, a player like Tracy Murray never got lift on his shot, and he was 6-foot-7 (1). (That said, Murray was never a good defender and wasn’t very mobile.) Oubre also displayed fairly quick shooting mechanics and was generally OK about going straight up and down on his jumper.

Oubre has appearing in four out of Washington’s five preseason games to date, missing the first contest due to a sore ankle, and has mostly pressed too much on offense. He is shooting 23 percent from the field (6-26) and 10 percent from 3-point range (1-10). Encouraging, however, is the fact that Oubre has attempted 21 free throws (making 15, 71.4%), just five below his total number of preseason field goal attempts. His best outing came last Friday against the 76ers; Oubre went a measured 3-for-4 from the field and got to the free throw line for 11 attempts (making nine), several times due to disruptive ball pressure on defense. He and Otto Porter seem to be on different planes in the personality continuum, but the ceiling of each will ultimately be determined by their ability to hit the 3-point ball. It took nearly two seasons for Porter to find his legs to hit shots from deep; Oubre could have just as long a path, even if he seems ahead-of-schedule in comparison. Randy Wittman has paired Oubre and Porter as his 3-4 combo several times during the preseason—a lineup not without its kinks to address, but one dangerously intriguing nonetheless, especially if John Wall and Bradley Beal are the 1-2 punch.

Spider Kelly is what I’m dubbing the kid, even if it has little to do with the famed Irish pugilist or some bro bar in Arlington, VA. Oubre’s limbs form a basketball base, which often seem like eight legs instead of four, that will carry his game as far as they’re willing to scramble all over the hardwood. With several wings on the Wizards dealing with nagging but potentially crippling injuries (Jared Dudley recovering from a herniated disc, Alan Anderson recovering from two ankle surgeries in the last six months, Martell Webster’s 28-year-old body acting 48), Oubre will likely get his feet wet in more real games than previously expected early this season. Don’t be surprised, however, if Oubre disappears into his web over latter portions of the schedule. And that’s OK. The Wizards set themselves up so that any rookie they bring in will have the luxury of developing at a comfortable pace under a haze of relatively low expectations. When’s the last time that happened with a first round draft pick of Washington?

Best Moment.

Getting drafted to an NBA playoff team.

Going from McDonald’s All-American (whom some think would have been a top 10 pick had been allowed to enter the league out of high school), to a top college team in Kansas, to suddenly one of the NBA’s lesser teams can be a challenge.

With the Wizards, not only does Oubre get to experience the fun of winning, but he also gets one of the NBA’s best point guards to smoothen the transition.

Worst Moment.

Getting dubbed a knucklehead because of spiky, metallic draft night shoes and the gall to be brashly, and perhaps ignorantly, confident at the age of 19.

The thing about boasting is that some people will be champing at the bit to make you look stupid the second you don’t back it up, always. The negative press, however, can be a form of motivation—look at John Wall in D.C., or Jordan (not in D.C.), or Kobe, or any of the greats before them. Either way, Oubre has always seemed grounded enough in the face of boastful claims to make discarding his still-developing youth more of a formality.

Oubre gets the process—”…you get to the NBA, no matter where you’re drafted at, you’re back to the bottom,” he says. So the kid should be given more of a chance by Baby Boomers who apparently were never part of the ‘next’ generation but rather emerged from the womb decrying change, and that people now-a-days are “soft” and don’t respect out-of-date, old world sensibilities. Y’heard?

Curious Stat.

Not so much a curious stat but something I did not know up until recently. D.C. native Jerome “Junkyard Dog” Williams, also a Georgetown grad and nine-year NBA vet who played for the Pistons, Raptors, Bulls, and Nets, was cited as a primary reason for Oubre transferring from high school in Texas after three years to Findlay Prep outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. At the time, Williams was director of player development at Findlay and became the head coach during Oubre’s one year there. Williams also only lasted one year at Findlay before stepping down. But filled with hope that Paul Pierce rubbed off on the Wiz Kids over his single season in D.C., maybe some JYD rubbed off on Oubre during his one season under Jerome.

If Oubre were a type of food or an entire meal of food he would be…

Both a vitamin and antacid that’s disguised as a bright gummy candy.

Media Day, Washington Wizards, Truth About It, 2015, NBA, Verizon Center, Adam McGinnis, Kelly Oubre, GMan

  1. This post originally indicated that Murray was 6-foot-10, he’s 6-foot-7.
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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.