Can Kelly Oubre Jr. Be a Wizards X-Factor?

Heading into his third NBA season, Kelly Oubre Jr. is looking to make a leap. So far, he's shown decent flashes - but lacks a true standout skill. Can Oubre morph into a solid sixth man in Washington?

The Eastern Conference is morphing. (Evolving isn’t exactly the right word here.) Several teams will take a step back from previous success. The Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks, and Chicago Bulls all stripped their roster of talent over the summer. Other teams are looking to make a leap. The Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, and Philadelphia 76ers improved their rosters over the season – in large and small ways. The Washington Wizards, on the other hand, will enter the 2017-2018 season with relatively the same core. With the exception of the departure of Bojan Bogdanovic, the Wizards will look to make the playoffs once more under head coach Scott Brooks.

With the team’s biggest 2017 offseason move likely Jodie Meeks (who’s played 39 games in the past two seasons), the Wizards are banking on internal improvement. Chris McCullough and Tomas Satoransky will try to crack the rotation for consistent minutes. Otto Porter’s production will need to match his max-restricted free agency contract. Kelly Oubre Jr. will look to take steps forward as well.

Out of the Wizards’ roster members on rookie or minimum deals, Oubre is the most promising. The former just-outside-of-the-lottery pick is entering his third NBA season, what many consider the year that young players fully break out. Oubre was a solid piece on an underused Washington bench, earning a few spot starts. He was often the second man off of the bench in the playoffs, averaging 15 minutes per game. And of course, Oubre received notoriety – and a suspension – for this moment in last season’s playoffs.

On the offensive end, Oubre doesn’t have a standout skill. Synergy ranked him in the 82nd percentile as a transition scorer, but being able to run the floor isn’t a true one-on-one skill. He converted only 29 percent of his three-point attempts in 2016-2017, a disappointing mark for a player that shot well in his lone college season. He also shot 19 percent on corner threes. Oubre also is too slender to attack the basket and saunter into the paint at this point. He averaged a paltry 1.1 assists per 36 minutes last season, showing his inability to create (or the magnitude of John Wall’s playmaking.) As a young player, he does a few things decently, but there is no asset to instill fear into defenders just yet.

But Wave Papi (his nickname, per basketball-reference) has the tools and upside (I know, NBA Draft season is over, but I can still use that word, right?) to be a competent offensive player. His 7’2” wingspan allows him to shoot over defenders and reach to the basket on drives. Oubre has some decent shiftiness when attacking off the bounce. He understands when to step on the gas and when to juke. He currently doesn’t have the strength to attack defenders from the hip, but he has decent scoring instincts from inside the arc. 

And of course, John Wall was often Oubre’s point guard last season. With Wall on the floor, Oubre’s job is simplified. He should look to increase his activity off the ball to complement a developing shooting stroke.

Oubre has already shown decent skills on the defensive end. Despite his relative inexperience, Oubre was often tasked with defending the opposing team’s best wings. Oubre’s wingspan allows him to gamble in the passing lanes and cover ground defending the pick and roll. His sheer activity on the defensive end may not show up on any end of game tallies, but Oubre can defend a large area, and contest seemingly every move by the opponent. Oubre’s intensity wavered at times, but his effort on the defensive end was consistent for the most part.

Expectations may be high for Oubre heading into 2017-2018. With Bojan Bogdanovic (essentially a two-month rental) gone, Oubre could be Washington’s sixth man. He may not provide the requisite microwave scoring ability of a typical sixth man, but his energy on the defensive end could be enough to give Washington a lift as the starters shift out.

If Scott Brooks decides to play small ball with Markieff Morris and Otto Porter sliding up a position, Oubre could be the perfect chaos-causing small forward in a more athletic lineup. His ability to switch onto slender bigs and smaller playmakers could pay dividends. However, Brooks rarely played Porter and Morris out of their given positions. The same could be said for Oubre, who may strictly be a full-time wing player.

Oubre has been doing his part to improve his game. He was seen working out with Chris Brickley, noted NBA workout guru, and with LeBron James and (Hoodie) Carmelo Anthony this summer.

Kelly Oubre Jr. is looking to make an impact in his junior NBA season. He has the tools – and now the experience to rise as Washington’s new sixth man. Of course, the degree to which he improves – or stagnates – is still unknown. With a new-look Eastern Conference, Kelly Oubre could be a key to the Wizards’ continued success.

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