Kelly Oubre Jr. bringing more energy, enticing lineup options for Suns
PHOENIX — The fit for the recently-acquired Kelly Oubre Jr. was not difficult to see with the Phoenix Suns.
As another energy guy and versatile wing defender, he joins the likes of Mikal Bridges, Richaun Holmes, Josh Jackson and De’Anthony Melton who all factor into at least one of those groups as well.
Sometimes, though, things don’t click when they are supposed to and you just never know. Luckily, that hasn’t been the case for Oubre with Phoenix.
While the Suns have hit their stride in December, Oubre hasn’t missed a step joining them mid-sprint. In four games, Oubre is averaging 14.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 blocks and 0.8 steals per game.
The lefty, though, is not the type of player where you judge him the most off his own individual stats.
With the usual disclaimer of a small sample size to this point, Oubre’s net rating — how much the Suns outscore opponents per 100 possessions — in 119 minutes is 8.3, the best on the team since he made his debut against the Boston Celtics on Dec. 19.
Oubre made a good point after shootaround on Friday that he’s joining a team that is largely in the same age group that made his mid-season transition more seamless.
“We all are competitors and we all want to be the best we can be playing the game of basketball so when you have guys like that, they just welcome you with open arms,” he said.
“He has a lot of energy on the court,” Deandre Ayton said of Oubre. “He’s very vocal, very loud, wants to win … fits perfect.”
Oubre joined the team on an East Coast road trip, meaning his home debut will be on Friday against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Judging by the reactions on social media over the past week-plus, Oubre has the rare benefit of doing so when a fanbase is already in love with the way he plays.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “I give love and I just expect love back.”
On top of that, Oubre’s already been in the trenches with the Suns. They beat the Celtics in Boston where Oubre’s late jumper was the difference, lost a three-OT thriller against the Wizards and most recently defeated the Magic in overtime as well.
With the playoff experience he already has from his time with the Wizards, the 23-year-old knows how important those games can be for a group.
“It was a great game for us to learn and grow and see how to finish and close out games,” Oubre said of the win in Orlando. “For us being so young we definitely have to continue to stay locked-in each and every play, each and every possession, so for us we did that against Orlando.”
At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Oubre’s intensity and instincts defensively can create serious problems for opposing perimeter options.
But what happens when you place Oubre with the likes of Bridges and Jackson, who do the same in their own regard, and you’ve got three guys who can guard four different positions?
The Celtics learned the issues this can present below while the Suns showcased how the tagline of “positionless basketball” can effectively change games.
On this possession, Bridges defends point guard Terry Rozier, Jackson marks point guard Kyrie Irving and Oubre matches up against forward Jayson Tatum.
All three players are not “ideal” size and speed matchups for either Suns wing, but they can still shut them down because of their ability and length.
Jackson tracks Irving off a screen, Oubre shuts down the Tatum drive and Bridges deflects the kickout.
Had to track down my favorite defensive possession from last night. This is quintessential switchy wing stuff. pic.twitter.com/6jKf30mATD
— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) December 21, 2018
“We can turn that into our strength — (the) identity of the second unit,” Kokoskov said of the three playing together. “I personally like it. I’m gonna keep doing it.”
While Bridges starts, Kokoskov has been sneaking in minutes for the trio by having Bridges check out for Jackson as one of the first subs and bringing Bridges back in for either Devin Booker or Melton.
To once again cite the variance coming for only 44 minutes, the net rating for the three switchy wings together is a terrific 12.1.
Put those three alongside Ayton and Booker and you’ve got the perfect balance of offense and defense while being able to switch almost any movement around screens.
“It’s a lot of athletes out there,” Oubre said of the three. “A lot of guys who are defensive-minded guys who can score as well so it’s a great lineup for us out there because we can switch everything and push the tempo on offense.”
As Oubre mentions for at least the likes of himself, Bridges and Jackson, this is already trending towards part of the team’s crunch-time five.
“Whenever coach goes to that lineup it’s usually when it’s in crunch time for the game so I think it works,” he said.
“Unstoppable lineup, I love that lineup,” Ayton said. “It’s like one of these superteams out here — everybody has a one-through-four that they can switch through and they try to have a dominant five.”