Just a handful of games into his third season, Kelly Oubre is slowly but surely developing into the player draft experts thought he could be when he was drafted in 2015. The prototypical 3-and-D prospect when he came out of Kansas, Oubre is now fulfilling that potential on both ends for a Wizards team that desperately needs what he brings to the table.
Offensively, Oubre is exactly the low-usage, high-efficiency player the Wizards need to fit in around John Wall and Bradley Beal, two high-usage primary ball handlers who need space to operate in the middle of the floor. Oubre’s offensive game was always thought to be behind his defensive potential, but he’s hitting his shots this season after a ghastly sophomore season from behind the 3-point line that saw him shoot just 18 percent on shots from the corners. This season, he’s comfortably above 40 percent from beyond the arc and it’s invigorated Washington’s offense, especially when he’s playing with the Wizards’ starters — Oubre is shooting 48.5 percent from 3 when both John Wall and Bradley Beal are on the floor.
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The full evolution of Oubre’s offensive game will come when he’s able to put the ball on the floor and create for others. He’s not being asked to do that for this Washington team, so it’s unclear whether he needs to develop that part of his game or just hasn’t been able to showcase it. Every once in a while, he’ll pull out a move that makes you wonder if he might be able to be more of a secondary option.
On the other end of the floor, Oubre is all arms and athleticism, but he’s starting to put it all together into a solid defensive package. His 7-foot-2 wingspan can swallow up smaller players and allow him to make some highlight reel blocks rotating over from the weak side. His block rate has doubled over previous seasons, though it’s worth noting that block rates through 13 games are reliant on an incredibly small sample — one fewer block and this statistic is essentially in line with previous seasons. However, if that block rate continues over the rest of the season, that will be another feather in Oubre’s cap defensively, at which point he’ll be seriously talking to the Wizards about a large contract extension next summer.
Speaking of contracts, Washington locked into their core of Wall, Beal, and Otto Porter in a big way this past summer, matching Porter’s max offer sheet and extending Wall until at least 2021-22. Therefore, it becomes imperative that the Wizards hit on their draft picks and other cheap filler talents around their three main players since they won’t have cap space any time this decade to make a significant addition to their team in free agency.
Oubre fits that mold perfectly and has proven himself to be precisely what the team needs: a wing stopper who can hit a shot and handle the ball when called upon. That wing stopper role is especially important for the Wizards, as none of the three core guys can fill that role. Oubre is still developing on the defensive end, but looks to be well on his way to becoming that missing piece for the Wizards. He still has this season and next under his rookie deal before he hits restricted free agency in 2019.
It’s worth a look at how Oubre ended up in Washington, as a conduit for a discussion on the importance of first-round picks and why teams, especially good teams, value them so highly. He was drafted 15th overall in 2015, a pick that was originally supposed to be made by the Atlanta Hawks. His rights were traded on draft night to Washington; the Hawks received Tim Hardaway Jr. from the New York Knicks and two future second-round picks from the Wizards, one of which hasn’t conveyed yet.
Hardaway played out the final two years of his rookie contract in Atlanta and then signed back with New York for an astronomically high contract that the Hawks were smart not to match, but the end result is that they received two years of Hardaway and two late second-round picks in exchange for four years of Oubre or whomever else they would have chosen with that pick in 2015 (each of the ten players chosen after Oubre in that draft are still rotation players in the league).
Competing teams must hit on these picks to fill out their roster around their high-priced stars and after a few bumps in the developmental road, it seems the Wizards have found one in Oubre. He fills a role they covet, has a very team-friendly contract for the next two seasons before hitting restricted free agency, and still has room to grow into an even better player before they have to make a decision on whether or not to lock him up for his prime years.