EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Kelly Oubre Jr. would provide great return for Suns, restarts wing logjam
Just when they’re getting out, they pull you back in.
With the Phoenix Suns actively looking to trade Trevor Ariza as soon as legally possible, the Suns would be relieving themselves of the wing logjam they created by trading for Mikal Bridges’ draft rights and signing Ariza. That’s a lot of minutes to find next to Devin Booker, T.J. Warren and former No. 4 overall pick Josh Jackson.
The expectation for an Ariza deal was the arrival of a point guard — more on that later — but instead, the team has essentially restarted the logjam on the wing by agreeing to acquire Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers from the Washington Wizards.
Three things before we dive into the exciting potential of Oubre and the long-term implications.
One, let’s not completely gloss over the loss of Ariza. Some will argue Oubre is better than Ariza right now. That is 100 percent false. Oubre has the potential to be better than this version of Ariza, but prime Ariza is what Oubre aspires to be in his role, and that’s not even what Ariza is right now.
Despite the noticeable lack of effort, at times, Ariza’s minutes will be missed.
Two, there’s a decent possibility Oubre gets shipped out for a point guard. He has just as much value on the market as Ariza, is easier to move and teams would have the ability to retain him as a restricted free agent next summer. Because of the aforementioned logjam it creates in Phoenix and need for that floor general, a trade is logical, and The Athletic’s David Aldridge reported there’s league-wide interest in Oubre as an RFA (restricted free agent).
Three, his RFA status is important. Do the Suns want to pay Oubre? In the madness of a three-team deal that fell apart, Oubre was originally headed to the Memphis Grizzlies, meaning the Suns preferred it that way as opposed to acquiring him. He figures to cost around $7-12 million a year depending on the market, and the Suns aspire for great things in free agency.
With that in mind, the agreed-upon deal has him sent to Phoenix for now, so let’s chop it up on what he brings.
Oubre came out of Kansas as your prototypical NBA small forward athletically. With great speed and solid explosion at 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Oubre profiled as the type of wing who could defend guards and most small forwards.
The key was for Oubre to find an identity offensively, but he never did that with the Jayhawks, so he wound up falling down the lottery and being selected at No. 15 by the Wizards.
He hasn’t necessarily done that to the degree you’d desire out of a mid-first round pick from four years ago, but Oubre’s tenacity on the court and some offensive skill have turned him into a solid NBA wing.
His activity makes him valuable.
On offense, Oubre takes most of his shots at the rim, a rarity for the wing.
His shot chart from last year is a bit ugly, lacking a spot on the floor he really shines from shooting, but the volume at the rim is key.
He knows who he is. This year, Oubre has taken 41 percent of his shots at the rim. Among forwards, that’s in the 77th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass.
Oubre’s handle, burst and finishing ability are good. Nothing that blows you away to an extreme, but it’s enough to get the job done.
The feature of Oubre we are going to keep coming back to is his toughness. Because of how often he attacks, he gets to the foul line a ton. Oubre draws a shooting foul on 13.2 percent of his shot attempts this season, an outstanding number for a forward and a career-best for him this year.
Oubre is listed at 205 pounds, and some players that size would shy away from contact on this possession below by attempting to slither around to the other side of the rim and use their length to finish.
The lefty, though, just barrels right into rim protectors after a quick crossover.
He’s efficient there too, posting free throw percentages of 82 percent last year and 80 this season.
An NBA wing who can capably grab-and-go is an underrated skill and Oubre’s got it.
Oubre has a good-looking shot, but consistency has plagued him in the early going of his career. He’s shooting 32.0 percent from deep on 3.0 attempts a game over four years.
Last year’s 34.1 percent was encouraging, but he’s dipped down three whole percent to 31.1.
He primarily takes catch-and-shoot chances and a 34.7 percent number on those from three-point range in 2017-18 is a less than encouraging number.
Oubre’s got a quick release and is always ready to fire. He just needs to, well, make the shot more.
The good news is he’s still young, has shown incremental improvement prior to this season and many players grow off that into respectable shooters. Projecting shooting, however, is always a crapshoot and we can only trust the numbers we have in front of us now.
With what you’ve seen out of him handling the ball, you assume Oubre can be a playmaker. Actually, Oubre is not much of a playmaker or, really, a passer at all.
When comparing how many times he provides assists given his usage percentage, Oubre ranks in the 10th percentile or lower in all four seasons he’s played for the Wizards, per Cleaning the Glass.
To give perspective on how poor that is, T.J. Warren has managed to get above that three different seasons and Oubre averages 0.7 assists a game in his career.
Believe it or not, though, that’s actually fine. He knows who he is. He’s a slasher and an improving shooter.
It’s the perfect offensive role for him as a role player because he’s a good defender.
Oubre has quick feet and knows how to use that for advantages moving laterally.
With his edge, the dude becomes a pest.
Watch him glide around screens, beat the ball-handler to spots and then jump all over the first opportunity to pick his pocket.
Off the ball, Oubre has active vision of the ball-handler and his agility allows him to close out passing lanes.
He covers for his big here and is able to recover on his man for the steal because he’s paying attention, something the Suns really struggle with as off-ball defenders.
His block and steal percentages the last two seasons have been great for his position and will fit right into the Suns’ recent trend of racking up deflections with De’Anthony Melton and Bridges.
On paper, Oubre is a player who really helps teams by knowing his role and constantly making plays.
But the point that must be stated here is the Wizards were at their best when Oubre was off the court this season and last year as well.
When Oubre was on the court last season, his net rating was minus-2.5 and the team’s jumped to plus-4.4 when he was off, the best off-court net rating of any Wizard. Meaning, when Oubre was off the court, that’s when the Wizards played the best.
This year, it’s a minus-7.8 net rating when he’s in and a minus-0.5 net rating when he’s out.
As a quick counter, though, Oubre has primarily been a reserve.
In the 204 minutes last year Oubre played with John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and Marcin Gortat, the Wizards had a plus-17.2 net rating. That was the lineup he played the most minutes with, and the second- and third-most were full-fives of reserves that yielded a minus-6.1 and minus-6.5 net rating.
Do the Suns have the type of talent around Oubre to get those benefits?
I believe so. A fully healthy Booker, the scoring of Warren and Deandre Ayton’s eventual presence down low adds up to being a point guard away from Oubre being a great small forward option alongside them.
But it can’t be overstated that’s the envisioned position for Bridges to hold before it was the envisioned position for Josh Jackson to hold.
Oubre is a good NBA player and could be very good if he keeps developing like he has the past couple seasons.
Keeping him makes sense from the perspective of a team that can count on one hand how many good NBA players they have at the moment, and you could probably slice a finger or three off and still be safe.
He’s long, athletic, tough and defends. That’s a cozy fit into what many of the players on the roster do or project to do around Booker as the centerpiece. The Suns can afford a new deal for Oubre this offseason and he shouldn’t be too pricey.
But the undeniable fact is the Suns still need a point guard.
The return for Ariza is great value, but the trade can’t be considered an overwhelming win without that hole being addressed.
It is not being addressed by Rivers, an inefficient creator off the dribble who can defend and shoot but has averaged only 2.4 assists per game over his career. Unless he can completely recapture his form from last year with the Clippers in a contract year, don’t get your hopes up. Rivers being included in the three-team deal that fell apart also indicates the Suns could believe he is the point guard solution for now.
Assuming Oubre is fine with being in Phoenix, which has to be considered given the franchise’s current state, the Suns have to find the right trade if they want to move him or one of the other wings to free up the jam.
Oubre is not a 15-year veteran who doesn’t want to be with the Suns anymore. He’s a 23-year-old who holds value and projects as an important piece of the team’s long-term core if all goes according to plan.
That, in and of itself, should tell you why the Suns did well for themselves, especially after Friday night’s debacle.
But to bring back up the madness of MarShon or Dillon Brooks, the Suns agreed to that deal with Dillon in mind. Not an original two-team deal with Oubre and Rivers coming to Phoenix.
Saturday morning’s agreed-upon trade reeks of the Suns getting this done as soon as possible and moving on from a train wreck by coming out on top in overall value. A trade to make a trade if you will.
That is not what the 5-24 basketball team needs, and which direction the front office shifts from this point will tell a lot about how much they realize that.