Should Kelly Oubre Start Ahead of Otto Porter?


Otto Porter Jr., the third pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, was supposed to become the Washington Wizards’ long-term solution at the small forward position. Instead, he will have to compete for the starting role with Kelly Oubre Jr., an inexperienced player who averaged 3.7 points per game as a rookie.

Earlier this week, Candace Buckner of The Washington Post reported that the Wizards Head Coach Scott Brooks expected a “healthy competition” between the two players during the training camp, which starts September 27 in Richmond, Virginia.

The arrival of a new head coach usually offers a fresh start for the players, and since Porter has been unable to assert himself among the league’s dominant small forwards, it makes sense for Brooks to motivate both Porter and Oubre by dangling the starting job as a carrot.

No Alternatives

The need for either of these players to develop in a heartbeat is only highlighted by the lack of other options at small forward since the Wizards have not signed anyone else at this position in the offseason. While a few players have been invited to the training camp, it is unlikely that any of them will become a significant contributor at the 3 position during the 2016-17 season.

Right now, Porter is still the heavy favorite to retain the starting role. Last year, he averaged 11.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.6 assists in 30.3 minutes per game, and his play improved as the season progressed. The former Georgetown Hoya is still a liability on defense, though, where he lacks the strength against more physical forwards yet his length prevents him from being effective against quicker players.

One of the main issues with Porter is the uncertainty about his true potential. His numbers – both per game and per 36 minutes – have consistently gone up from year to year, but the crucial question is whether he is slowly plateauing in his development.

Porter can without a doubt be a solid player in this league but it might not be enough in order for the Wizards to compete in a conference where he has to play against the likes of LeBron James or Paul George on a nightly basis.

#FreeOubre

Enter Kelly Oubre, a man around whom the hype amongst the Wizards faithful has reached possibly unhealthy levels.

The 20-year-old New Orleans, Louisiana native was criminally underutilized during Randy Wittman’s last season with the Wizards, which sparked a #FreeOubre movement both online and in the Verizon Center.

Oubre has shown flashes of brilliance, including a game against the San Antonio Spurs in which he scored 18 points in 24 minutes. Recently, he has been named First-Team All-NBA Summer League.

However, the fact that he has played only 671 minutes in the 2015-16 season – and a lot of it against the opponents’ second units – makes drawing any serious conclusions quite problematic. To put things into perspective, Otto Porter played 2276 minutes over the same period of time.

In this case, the best way to compare Porter and Oubre would be by using the Per-36 Minutes statistics (per basketball-reference.com).

FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PTS
Otto Porter Jr. 5.4 11.3 0.473 1.6 4.2 0.367 3.8 7.1 0.536 1.5 2 0.754 1.5 4.7 6.2 1.9 1.7 0.5 1.1 13.8
Kelly Oubre Jr. 4.8 11.3 0.427 1.3 4.2 0.316 3.5 7.1 0.492 1.7 2.6 0.633 1.3 5.8 7.1 0.7 1.2 0.4 1.8 12.7

While Porter’s numbers are better nearly across the board, the difference is smaller than one might have expected to be between a rookie and a third-year player. Remarkably, Oubre has an advantage in rebounds – a big factor for a team that finished 26th out of 30 in this category last season.

Porter’s Last Chance

It is almost certain that Porter will remain in the starting lineup while Oubre will see a significant increase in minutes. A major issue that plays in Porter’s favor is the fact that this is his contract year.

The Wizards front office will want to give him plenty of opportunities to prove his worth before deciding whether to commit tens of millions of dollars to him or to move on and hand over the keys to the talented Oubre. Otto Porter’s time is now or never.

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