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The Oubre Spectrum: Just How Well Can Kelly Shine?

Jewel: (n) [joo-uh l]

  • A cut and polished precious stone; gem.
  • A fashioned ornament for personal adornment, especially of a precious metal set with gems.
  • A precious possession.
  • A person or thing that is treasured, esteemed, or indispensable.
  • A durable bearing used in fine timepieces and other delicate instruments, made of natural or synthetic precious stone or other very hard material.
  • An ornamental boss of glass, sometimes cut with facets, in stained-glass work.
  • Something resembling a jewel in appearance, ornamental effect, or the like, as a star.

Whoever gets me is getting a jewel.” – Kelly Oubre Jr.

The night Kelly Oubre was drafted by the Washington Wizards, he was instantly and seamlessly integrated into the DC world. Within seconds of his name being called, Oubre displayed all kinds of qualities that define DC: Flash. Confidence. Eloquence. Style. And most importantly, declarations of big promises, guarantees, and lofty expectations. Oubre walked across the stage in these sparkling spikes, into DC, and basically declared, “Yes We Can!”

oubre shoe

Like a DC politician, Oubre said and promised all the right things. “I’m ready to put the work in…I’m definitely going to give then 110 percent effort.”

But like politicians, Oubre also chose his words either extremely carefully, or extremely carelessly. A “jewel.”

A jewel is polished. A jewel is cut to the ideal shape. A jewel is precious. A jewel is indispensible. A jewel is a finished product. And as a 6’7”, 200 pound, 19 year old out of Kansas, Kelly Oubre is far from a finished product. He lacks many NBA skills that still need development, before they can then be refined and polished. His body needs to fill out, widening and thickening his frame, and then working to get it cut and lean to NBA standards. He needs to improve his overall basketball understanding, and learn where he and his abilities fit into the Wizards system, and then incorporate himself into the system so perfectly that he becomes invaluable within it.

But Oubre also needs care. In some environments, under certain pressures and conditions, carbon becomes coal. In other environments, carbon becomes graphite. And in some rare cases, with the perfect blend of chemical make-up, environment, and conditions, carbon makes diamonds. Treasured. Precious. As a star.

Kelly Oubre Jr. has the raw tools. He is a carbon-based organism after all. But many who have come before him have had similar tools. This is DC. We are used to big personalities, big proclamations, and big promises. We love getting caught up in the hype of potential and possibilities. But like a fine diamond importer, we also love to analyze, scrutinize, and identify any flaw and imperfection. We know that all jewels are not equal; that every jewel eventually falls somewhere within a spectrum of value and perfection; That every raw, long, athletic, talented wing player can turn into anything from Jeremy Lamb to Kawhi Leonard.

So just how great can Kelly Oubre shine?

Let’s see using The Oubre Spectrum: A series of players with similar physical tools, who play similar positions, who Kelly Oubre may or may not compare to in the future, for better or worse.

Kelly Oubre Jr.:

6’7”, 200 lbs

College Stats in final College Season (PER 40 MINUTES):
17.6 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 2.3 turnovers, 44% FG, 36% 3-FG, 21 mpg.

Jeremy Lamb:

6’5”, 180 lbs

College Stats in final College Season (PER 40 MINUTES):
19.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 2.1 turnovers, 48% FG, 34% 3-FG, 37 mpg.

“He’s the next Jeremy Lamb.” The only person saying those words with ANY positive sentiment is Kevin Ollie in his recruiting pitches to High School juniors at least 500 miles outside of Oklahoma City. Needless to say, this is the low end of the Oubre Spectrum.

Lamb entered the league with greater expectations than Oubre, as the 12th pick, but also found himself in a nearly perfect situation, or so it seemed. Lamb joined an OKC team already loaded and ready for contention, needing bench help, wing depth, and solid perimeter defense. Lamb seemed like the perfect young guy to fill the 3-and-D role early, and then grow into his even greater talents. Lamb quickly preceded to provide exactly zero of these elements, even on a Thunder team that has continuously proven to successfully develop young talent.

The 2014-2015 season even provided a great opportunity for Jeremy Lamb: With Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant both out with injury, Lamb had a chance to prove that all he needed was opportunity and playing time. Instead, he proved to be what he had been all along: An unproductive talent who looked the part far better than he played it. He finished the season having played in just 47 games, averaging 6.3 points, and is now out of the league (He is actually now on the Charlotte Hornets, but that feels like the same thing).

Otto Porter Jr.

6’8”, 205 lbs

College Stats in final College Season (PER 40 MINUTES):
18.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.6 turnovers, 48% FG, 42% 3-FG, 35 mpg.

This is one is interesting. Obviously, this is most interesting because Porter and Oubre now play on the same team, at the same position. If we operate under the premise that the Wizards intend to keep both players, and want them both to succeed, this fit is kind of awkward. At least from a traditional basketball perspective.

But the league is moving away from traditional basketball, and if we look at this team through a more advanced microscope, we can envision some ways this could work beautifully.

Exhibit A: The Golden State Warriors.

The Warriors showed the rest of the league that positional versatility is the future of the NBA. The more playmakers, the better. The more defenders, the better. And of course, the more shooters, the better. Granted, neither Porter nor Oubre would even make the Warriors rotation at their current respective stages, but they LOOK like Warriors. Long, athletic, with the ability to (potentially) guard multiple positions. Oubre will need to substantially improve his three-point shooting. Thirty-six percent from college range isn’t going to scare anyone in the NBA, and with no fear comes no space for your teammates (but plenty of tempting space for you!) However, Oubre already has the physical potential to be an excellent defender, at least on 1s, 2s, and 3s. If he can learn to play within himself early, he could provide some great lineup versatility as he continues to improve his game. If the Warriors could win a championship playing Harrison Barnes and Shaun Livingston/Andre Iguodala, and the Rockets reached the Western finals with Corey Brewer and Trevor Ariza line-ups, there’s no reason we can’t envision a wing combination of Porter and Oubre Juniors being successful as well.

Well, there is one reason: If Otto Porter Jr. is going to max out at being Otto Porter Jr., then Oubre is going to have to be the one taking it to the next level(s). Segway!

Trevor Ariza:

6’8”, 200 lbs

College Stats in final College Season (PER 40 MINUTES):
14.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 43% FG, 24% 3-FG, 32 mpg.

NOW we’re talking! Sure, it would be great if Oubre turned into a perennial All-Star caliber player, but playing alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal, having him turn into Trevor Ariza 2.0 would be pretty great too.

THIS is where the “I’m ready to put the work in” talk really comes in. Trevor Ariza was never supposed to be an NBA hot commodity. He was a 43rd pick, second rounder in the 2004 NBA draft. For years, he struggled to find playing time on unsuccessful teams. His name stayed in public circulation periodically because of plays like this:

And this:

But that was all. You can be certain the lack of production and impact got frustrating, but when you’re an NBA small forward, and you start your career with seasons shooting 23%, 20%, 0%, and 28% from 3 point range, and TOTALING just 43 three point attempts in 229 games over four seasons, what can you expect?

What you can’t expect is this: A 2008-2009 playoff run in which Ariza shot FORTY-EIGHT percent from three, hitting 40 of 84 threes in just 23 games, on the way to an NBA championship in his fifth season in the NBA, and first with the LA Lakers.

That’s when Trevor Ariza, 3-and-D King was born. A 6’8” 200 pound, poor and hesitant three point shooter in 2004 turned himself into a lock-down defender who could guard four positions, fit into any team, and generate shooting charts like this in 2015:

shot chart 1

shot chart 2

That’s what “putting in work” means. That’s what putting in work does. Mr. Oubre: You say, “I’m ready to put the work in…I’m definitely going to give then 110 percent effort.” ?

We’ve heard you talk the talk. Let’s see you shoot the rock.

Andre Iguodala:

6’6”, 207 lbs

College Stats in final College Season (PER 40 MINUTES):
16.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 45% FG, 32% 3-FG, 32 mpg.

Now we’re talking jewels. And jewelry. If you think expecting Oubre to turn into Iguodala is expecting too much, then you’re resigned to the fact that Oubre is expecting too much of himself. So, for now, let’s pretend Oubre is in fact ready to put in work, what exactly does this work have to result into to approach Iguodalian levels?

EVERYTHING! Iguodala is one of the most versatile players in the NBA, because he can do a little bit of everything well, to a level that Oubre can’t currently even fathom. First, Iggy is an excellent ball handler, someone who can take defenders off the dribble, push reliably in transition, and handle the ball under NBA defensive pressure. He isn’t on the level of Wall as a ball handler, but he is certainly on the level of Beal. Oubre is going to have to work long and hard, and probably for multiple seasons, before he is on par with Iggy in the handles department.

But it’s more than handles. Being able to dribble without having it taken away is one thing. Being able to create a shot for yourself is golden. Being able to create for others as a playmaker is diamond. Even in college, Iguodala was a gifted passer, averaging 6.1 assists for 40 minutes. Court awareness and court vision is often innate, but it can also be developed through countless hours of practice, film-study, and experience. Oubre said he wanted to help take pressure of Wall and Beal. This means making plays, not just making shots.

And what about ego? Let’s not kid ourselves. Every great athlete has one, whether they say it or not, and we all saw Oubre’s shoes. Outfits speak louder than words. As do actions. Andre Iguodala’s actions spoke volumes about his willingness to sacrifice for the success of the team, and his willingness to adapt his role to maximize victories. In Philly, Iguodala was never really comfortable as a number one star, but he was certainly not bench material either. Yet in Oakland, California, that is where Steve Kerr put him. Iggy took it, he embraced it, and then he won Finals MVP. Two trophies and a ring? I’d say that’s worth it.

So what happens when (if?) Oubre starts to come into his own. What happens if Oubre starts to feel like he should be more of a focal point on offense, but the Wizards ask him to spot up around the floor, and guard the opponent’s best player every night, instead of trying to be the best player on the Wizards? What happens when (if?) Oubre wants more shots, or feels like the Wizards style isn’t maximizing his talents?

We all want Kelly Oubre to turn into something special. But Wall is already special. Beal is very close to special. We’re waiting and hoping for Otto Porter to become something special. But if everyone becomes what we hope, how can there be room for everyone? Sacrifices will have to be made, egos will have to be shed. Kelly Oubre said he’s ready to give 110 percent? Is he ready to give up some things in the process?

Kawhi Leonard:

6’7”, 225 lbs

College Stats in final College Season (PER 40 MINUTES):
19.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.6 turnovers, 44% FG, 29% 3-FG, 33 mpg.

Kawhi Leonard is a finals MVP. Kawhi Leonard was the best player on a transcendent championship team. Kawhi Leonard just won the 2015 NBA Defensive player of the year award. Kawhi Leonard just signed a max contract, because his team believes he can only get better.

Kawhi Leonard is unselfish, coachable, a great teammate, and a borderline superstar. Kawhi Leonard went from being a raw rookie drafted 15th, to a 3-and-D machine, to a Finals MVP, to a franchise cornerstone. Kawhi Leonard is only 24 years old. This is the far end of the Oubre Spectrum; The shade of red before Infrared.

This is where the Wizards organization comes in. This is where John Wall needs to become a leader. This is where Wittman has to excel. This is where management has to balance productivity and growth. In the right environment, diamonds. In the wrong environment, coal.

Because of the Spurs system of leadership and culture of coach-ability and success, everyone trusted the system. Kawhi had time to work on fundamentals, to build and shape his now ridiculous NBA frame, and to learn his place within the Spurs machine. He was not crushed under the weight of expectations that were impossible without the appropriate time to form. He was placed under the ideal amount of pressure, with appropriate time to adjust. As the pressure and demands increased, the performance coincided, until Kawhi went from unknown, to indispensible. Now the Spurs will ask more of Kawhi, but there is no doubt left about whether he is ready.

That’s what can happen when everything goes right. When the ideal physical ingredients are placed in the ideal environment, Kawhi’s the limit.

*Coming next week: Johnny Mervis: John Wall’s Role in Turning Kelly Oubre Into DC’s newest Diamond Import

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