Kelly Oubre, Man of Mystery — 2016-17 Wizards Player Previews | Wizards Blog Truth About

Kelly Oubre, Man of Mystery — 2016-17 Wizards Player Previews

Updated: October 20, 2016

The 2016-17 NBA season is almost here … and upon last check, they are still going to allow the Washington Wizards to participate. So the TAI crew is firing up the pixel makers and churning out player previews, or rather, “Wizards Player Haters’ Previews” — which is not to say that we are hating on the players or the game, but that this season’s version of the Wizards is ready to hate on all those who stand in their way. First up: Kelly Oubre, via Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace). 


The human condition is plagued by existential questions: What is the meaning of life? What is our purpose on earth? Does any of this really matter?

This off-season you can add one more to the list: Who, exactly, is Kelly Oubre, Jr.?

Is he the small forward of the future? Is he better than Otto Porter right now? Is he the NBA’s next sex symbol?

We still do not know what Oubre has to offer because he spent (almost) his entire rookie season in Randy Wittman’s doghouse. It’s a cruel, lonely fate that befell Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin before him.

There has been much ado about Oubre’s breakout this preseason, as if Kelly has morphed into a brand new player, but there were already glimpses of his potential last year. During a nine-game stretch beginning in mid-December, Oubre played over 20 minutes in eight games and started five of them. Aside from a tendency to pick up unnecessary fouls, he played pretty well. Most notably, he hit 12 of 22 3-pointers (54.5%). By comparison, he is shooting 5-for-14 (35.7%) from long-range during his supposed breakout preseason.

Kind of makes you wonder where Oubre would be today if he was given a shot last season like his fellow rookie Josh Richardson in Miami. But the past is the past. No need to dwell on the Wittman era.

The important question is what Oubre offers this year’s Wizards. One thing seems certain: Kelly will have a significant spot in the rotation. Scott Brooks raised eyebrows at the start of training camp when he said Otto Porter and Oubre would compete for the starting small forward spot. This was likely just coach-speak, letting his new players know that minutes must be earned under the new regime.

Thing is, Otto has already established himself as a dependable running mate with the starters. The Toronto and Atlanta 2015 playoff series alone should establish Otto as the presumptive starter, let alone his solid play after the All-Star break last season.

Oubre is more of a wildcard. He brings athleticism and aggression on the offensive end that Otto painfully lacks, but he also tends to gamble too much on defense and forces way too many ill-advised shots in traffic.

For readers with the TV viewing habits of a teenage girl, Otto is the Dawson to Oubre’s Pacey. While Joey may prefer the bad boy, NBA coaches usually settle for the safe pick. Expect Porter to be in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future.

So, here’s what to expect from Kelly…

The Good

Assault on the Rim.

Kelly attacks the paint with abandon. Whereas Otto pumps and twists and turns and throws up weak shots at the rim, Oubre tries to run through defenders. While his killer instinct sometimes leads him into triple teams, it also gets him to the free throw line. That is a skill the Wizards sorely lack. Every team needs at least one wing player who prefers to challenge interior defenders rather than settle for jumpers. Porter, Marcus Thornton, Jarell Eddie—even Beal most of the time—prefer to do their damage via jumpers. Oubre is the designated slasher on the team.

Outside shooting.

The sample size is limited, but Oubre appears to be at least a league average 3-point shooter. And he does not lack for confidence. Those two traits alone make him an asset on this Wizards team. John Wall has a knack for turning average shooters into well-paid ones. With Tomas Satoransky, a non-shooter, poised to play substantial minutes at point guard and shooting guard, it is especially important for Oubre to be able to space the floor with the second unit.

Quick Hands and Long Arms.

Oubre has the tools to be an elite defender. In his rookie season, those tools got him into a lot of foul trouble, as he reached for steals instead of staying in front of his man and too often slapped shooter after shooter on the wrist after the ball was released. After a home game against the Sacramento Kings last season, fellow Kansas University alum Ben McLemore said that Oubre just needs time to adjust to the speed and officiating of the NBA game.

He appears to have learned his lesson. Oubre has cut his fouls down to 2.2 per game during the preseason while still swiping 1.8 steals per game. When he is locked in defensively, his 7-foot-2 wingspan can be suffocating. However, he is not always locked in…

The Bad

The Gambler.

Scott Brooks’ quote after Washington’s home preseason opener versus Miami bears repeating:

“He has the length and athleticism and he does gamble at times but he just has to continue focus on being solid. It’s hard to shoot over him, his arms go forever. He has to be able to focus in on that because when he gambles everybody else has to recover for him.”

The last sentence is the key. If there is one thing that will keep Oubre off the court this season it is defensive lapses. With Ian Mahinmi missing the first month of the season, Washington does not have a rim protector on the roster. All those gambles will lead to easy baskets if Oubre guesses wrong.

Tunnel Vision.

For all the talk of Kelly’s improvement, there is one negative trait he has not shaken: straight line drives into the heart of the defense. Oubre has a tendency to put his head down and charge at the rim, regardless of who may be in his path.

Such drives could be excused last season when he had limited time on the court and every possession must have felt like his only chance to take a shot. They could also be excused in this year’s summer league when Oubre was the centerpiece of the offense and had the greenest light imaginable. But Oubre is still putting his head down and getting into trouble once or twice a game this preseason. It’s not a big deal and it’s something that a coach who prides himself on developing young players can easily fix.

The Shorts

Kelly takes his fashion cues from early-’80s Jack Tripper.


Adam Rubin on EmailAdam Rubin on Twitter
Adam Rubin
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Adam grew up in the D.C. area and has been a Washington Bullets fan for over 25 years. He will not refer to the franchise as anything other than the Bullets unless required to do so by Truth About It editorial standards. Adam spent many nights at the Capital Centre in the ‘90s where he witnessed such things as Michael Jordan’s “LaBradford Smith game,” the inexcusable under-usage of Gheorghe Muresan’s unstoppable post moves, and the basketball stylings of Ledell Eackles.