The Whiteboard: Lauri Markkanen, Kelly Oubre Jr. and the best of what’s left

Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images
Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images /

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The list of available NBA free agents has shrunk quickly. Kawhi Leonard is still out there but almost certainly going back to the Clippers. Dennis Schroder has solid numbers but might only have a one-year deal available to him. That leaves Kelly Oubre Jr. and Lauri Markkanen as the most impactful players still available. Where could they land?

Someone could use Kelly Oubre Jr., right?

Oubre Jr. is an unrestricted free agent and reportedly the salary he’s seeking has been the biggest stumbling block towards finding a new home. Oubre is a 25-year-old swingman with defensive versatility and three consecutive seasons averaging 15 or more points per game. If you’re wondering why his market seems so low it’s worth remembering just how bad Oubre was at the start of last season. Through the end of January, a 20-game stretch in which he played about 85 percent of his minutes with Steph Curry and 54 percent of his minutes with both Curry and Draymond Green, Oubre shots 37.2 percent from the field and 22.8 percent from beyond the arc. Obviously, this was not a peak Warriors’ roster but he was an absolute disaster playing next the player who arguably draws more defensive attention, on- and off-the-ball, than anyone in the league.

Oubre definitely improved as the season went along and his numbers from Feb. 1 through the end of the season were pretty much in line with his 2019-20 numbers from Phoenix. But that stretch was so bad, both the raw production and the context of doing it what should have been a fairly comfortable situation for a complementary wing to transition into, has clearly impacted his perceived value. At this point, Oubre may have to take a shorter-term, or even a one-year deal, to rehab his value a bit because it seems unlikely he’s going to get even close to what he wants on a three-year deal.

Why isn’t anyone interested in Lauri Markkanen?

Markkanen may have misplayed his hand by turning down a fairly reasonable extension offer from the Bulls last offseason, betting that he could improve his leverage heading into restricted free agency with a bounce-back season. Markkanen’s points per game declined for the second year in a row but that’s largely because he played a smaller role with fewer minutes and shots. But he looked much better than he did during the interrupted 2019-20 season and finished the year making 40.2 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and 58.2 percent inside of it, both career-highs.

There are still defensive questions and his fit next to Nikola Vucevic is terrible, but he’s still a 24-year-old 7-footer with clear offensive value. He ranked in the 81st percentile as a spot-up threat last season, a reflection of his strong jumper and his ability to put the ball on the floor and attack closeouts. He’s also extremely comfortable shooting off movement — 78th percentile in scoring efficiency coming off screens — and at his size that skill opens all sorts of strategic possibilities.

He rarely got a chance to work as a screener, and the results generally haven’t been good when he has, but, again, he’s 24 and has had three head coaches in four seasons, one of whom was Jim Boylen. Markkanen has a solid skill foundation and there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about his upside. Currently, there are two teams with the space to make a reasonable offer — the Hornets and Mavericks, both of whom could make good use of his skill set. The question is how desperate he is for trying to force a change of scenery, versus playing out the season on the one-year qualifying offer, betting on himself again to land a bigger deal next summer.

Warriors’ rookies look good in Summer League debuts

Warriors fans weren’t exactly thrilled on draft night, both with the lack of a home run trade and using the No. 7 pick on Jonathan Kuminga, who is perceived to be more of a long-term project than a win-now value. But the Summer League debuts for Kuminga and Moses Moody, who they took with the No. 14 pick, should ease at least a little bit of attention.

The NBA’s main Summer League in Las Vegas doesn’t begin until Sunday, but the Warriors have also joined the Heat, Lakers and Kings for the California Classic Summer League, a four-team amuse-bouche for the main event. Kuminga and Moody didn’t play in the Warriors’ first game at the event but they both made their debuts in the second, each playing about 25 minutes in a 94-87 loss to the Heat.

Kuminga scored 18 on 14 shots, going 1-of-4 from beyond the arc, and adding 3 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. He had 6 turnovers and 4 fouls, reinforcing how many rough edges there are still are in his game, but he gave everyone a good look at what his upside could be. He was a beast in transition, flashing power and vertical pop with a beautiful hanging layup and a huge blow-by dunk. He may be a long way from playing key minutes during a deep championship run but he’s going to make some huge highlights this season and you can see how bright his future could be.

Moody on the other end, looked like someone much more ready to contribute right away. He played some strong defense, using his size and frame well and knocked down a pair of clean catch-and-shoot 3s from the corner, a shot he should see plenty of this season. He finished with 19 points on 18 shots, 7 rebounds and 2 assists; while it’s going to take some work for him to figure out how to create for himself against NBA athletes he looks like someone who can defend and hit open shots right away.

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