Washington Wizards: Kelly Oubre Is the Team’s Future at Small Forward

Washington Wizards have found their future at small-forward now that 20-year-old Kelly Oubre has been showing great development in his second season.

At Washington Wizards media day, head coach Scott Brooks was asked about the team’s small-forward position.

“The position is up for grabs,” Brooks told reporters.

If you are taking Brooks at his word, then you would have to conclude that based on the level of his play through three preseason games, Kelly Oubre has at least made the competition for the starting small-forward role more interesting than it may have been expected coming off a rookie season in which he played a total of 671 minutes.

In 27 minutes per game, Oubre is averaging 16.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game while shooting 54.8 percent from the field and 50 percent from the 3-point line.  That translates to a per-36 of 22.3 points, 7 rebounds and 3.6 steals per game.

That’s a far cry from the player who averaged 3.7 points in 10.7 minutes as a rookie under then head coach Randy Wittman, who seemed more willing to trust veterans rather than experience the highs and lows that playing a 19-year-old rookie would entail.

Given how little Oubre played last year, there wasn’t much reason to think that he would raise his level of play as much as he has.  Since the sample size is low and it’s still preseason, there’s understandable doubt about whether or not this level of play is sustainable. But, his aggression has been a welcomed sight.

In addition to strong 3-point shooting, a dire need on a roster lacking in consistent threats from deep, Oubre has excelled in two areas: getting to the free throw line and being a defensive factor.

More importantly for the Washington Wizards, those are focal points which Brooks stressed as areas of improvement after taking over as head coach this past April.

In three preseason games, Oubre is averaging 5.7 free throw attempts per game – a figure which would have ranked first on last season’s roster. Last year’s team leader in free throws per game was John Wall, who averaged 4.5.

Defensively, Oubre has also been a disruptive presence, averaging 2.7 steals per game and posting a defensive rating of 96.7.

Oubre’s growth should not come as a total surprise, though.

I spoke with Drew Hanlen, the renowned skills coach and founder of Pure Sweat Basketball, prior to the summer to discuss the off-season plans for Oubre and Bradley Beal.

Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss Oubre’s latest play.

“Kelly improved a ton over the summer. His tweaks on his jump shot have paid off so far in preseason and he’s shooting it a lot more confidently. His defense is much improved. He’s really bought into film and we’re making adjustments after every game and the game is starting to slow down for him,” Hanlen said.

“He’s starting to ask the right questions and has really been all in as far as putting in the work and studying the game. He still has to tighten handles and limit turnovers moving forward, but I’ve been pleased with his progress and know he’ll continue to grow throughout the year.”

Physical talent was never a concern with Oubre.

Now that the game is starting to slow down for him, Oubre has shown flashes of the player he could potentially become down the road.

This isn’t a situation where he’s playing against NBA hopefuls, like he did in the NBA Summer League.

Oubre has been matched up against legitimate pros, often guarding rotational players during preseason.

Against the Knicks, Oubre was asked to defend Carmelo Anthony.

As expected, Anthony used his size and created shots for himself.

Oubre stood his ground, countering with quick feet and using length to hold Anthony to 1-3 shooting from the field, including an air ball.

These are the exact type of experiences that can help expedite the learning curve.

How quickly Oubre incorporates the lessons he’s going to learn from these types of experiences on a nightly basis will determine if this level of play is sustainable and how fast he becomes a permanent fixture in the lineup.

While Oubre has been a pleasant surprise and a source of excitement this preseason, there’s definitely good reason to pump the brakes.

Even though he’s played against NBA talent during preseason, the level of competition still isn’t at the level it will be during the regular season.

He’s often forced the action, leading to turnovers and low percentage shots in traffic. As Hanlen also mentioned, his ball handling still needs work too.

These factors contribute to why you may see two versions of Oubre in the same game: the one who changes speeds to finish a driving play and the one who tries to do too much, making the game more difficult than it should be.

Regardless, Oubre has shown enough to create excitement.

He’s only 20-years-old and has incredible physical gifts that are beginning to transfer to live action.

Brooks was brought in to develop players and we’re seeing that happen first-hand.

Has he done enough to push Otto Porter out of the starting lineup? That’s hard to tell.

Porter hasn’t had a stellar start to the preseason but has experience and is a player who can be disruptive on the defensive end and a threat shooting from downtown.

With that said, if Oubre can prove that this preseason has not been an aberration, it’s only a matter of time before he takes that starting spot and never looks back.

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