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Suns building blocks: Kelly Oubre Jr. knocking on the door of being great

Kelly Oubre Jr. #3 of the Phoenix Suns during the first half of the NBA game against the Golden State Warriors at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 31, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns will exit the 2019 offseason with their young core clear. While some pieces are more proven than others, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Devin Booker, Cameron Johnson and Kelly Oubre Jr. are all under the age of 24 and will shape how the next three years go for Phoenix as it leaves the rebuilding phase.

Empire of the Suns will take a look at key areas of improvement for each young piece, now taking a peek at how Tsunami Papi can take his game up a notch.

Having been in a playoff series and coming over with bunches of NBA experience to his name, it is easily forgotten that Kelly Oubre Jr. isn’t turning 24 years old until December.

When the Suns re-signed Oubre on a two-year deal worth $30 million, part of that logic from Phoenix’s side had to be on Oubre improving over the course of his contract.

While Oubre “is what he is” at this stage of his career, there are a few specifics in his game that can be tweaked and make him a much more effective player. I’d argue, in fact, that if it was to a dramatic enough extent that Oubre would be considered one of the best role player wings across the league.

On top of the continued improvement as a facilitator, if Oubre gets just a little bit more efficient in a few spots, now we’re talking about someone who could shoot 50% from the floor.

His biggest weakness on offense isn’t his three-point shooting, but rather, his tunnel vision and overall limited skill set as a driver.

Where Oubre makes his money offensively is getting to the bucket and finishing through contact he wants to establish, drawing fouls constantly with that too. It’s a credit to how good he is there that he managed to shoot 45% from the field last season in Phoenix as well.

But a critical accommodating skill for scoring like that is making the right pass when defenses collapse on the drive and that part of Oubre’s game was non-existent in Washington.

In Phoenix, though, Oubre improved his assist percentage from 4.2% to 8.0%, per Cleaning the Glass. That’s 0.7 a game to 1.6. In 40 games for the Suns, Oubre had eight games with at least three assists. For the Wizards over 252 games, there were only 15 instances. A running theme here is that Oubre understands where he needs to get better and he’s doing it.

His turnovers jumped with it, however, all the way to 1.8 a game and a turnover percentage of 11.7%, a below average number for his position grouping.

Oubre is prone to a lot of silly ones, such as stepping out of bounds more than just a few times last season or making a lazy pass.

Your choice of perspective depends on how you feel about those. Either Oubre is young and is going to tighten that up or some of those facepalms are just a part of his game. We’ll see.

Other times, you can see him making pre-determined decisions and not adjusting on the fly.

Oubre doesn’t slow down here, either because he expects the help to come or he thought he was going to beat Kevon Looney to the bucket. Neither occurs.

Smart defenders can take advantage of this in situations where Oubre should score.

The point is, when watching most of his turnovers back, a ton of them are preventable. He could easily be a player that averages under one a game if he tidied it up a smidge.

As far as the scoring goes, Oubre is in the rare breed of not being much of a three-point shooter but still being a 15-plus points per game scorer without much of a midrange game either.

He attempted only 5% of his shots from deep midrange spots, 29 total, and the rest of his midrange game is 37% shooting in floater range.

You can see other teams playing him a certain way with those numbers in mind.

In Atlanta, Dewayne Dedmon had Oubre’s timing down and got three blocks out of it. No need to worry about a pull-up.


Picking the right spot to change speeds and go with a pull-up inside 15 feet would suit him well. He’s capable, and as you can see below, he can still use his physicality to set it up.

Those touch shots should be a huge focus for him over the next two years.

And then there’s his 3-point shot, which obviously needs to get better. He shot 32.5% on 5.2 attempts per game for the Suns. As it turns out, he shot worse on catch-and-shoot 3s (32.1% on 3.9 attempts per game) than pull-ups (34.0% on 1.3 attempts per game).

To no surprise, Oubre has been working this offseason at it, including some time with shooting specialist Drew Hanlen. He’s aware.

Defensively, Oubre is a menace on the ball. He’s always trying to bump his man while simultaneously swiping at the ball if they give him a window to.

This is signature Oubre on defense. Beats the ball-handler to the spot, bump and swipe.

But a flaring weakness of his is bad habits off the ball and getting beat backdoor. Sometimes this leeches into his on-ball defense too, where you can see him a step in the wrong direction for whatever reason.

Whether it’s eyeing his man and failing to be in the right position, or not seeing him at all, it happens.

A lot.

Like enough to get three clips from a game.

It’s consistent enough to be a problem and can really hurt the defense, even on nights when he’s doing the usual damage on the ball.

Oubre cleaning that up and eliminating most of those occurrences would make him a good, arguably great overall defender. Combine that with an efficiency upgrade offensively and you’ve got one of the NBA’s best supplementary two-way wings, building off Oubre already being a valuable and needed piece in Phoenix.

He’s shown in his NBA time he’s capable of growth. He’s already improved his handle loads from the Kansas days and, as mentioned, he has also enhanced his passing. He seems like the type of player to see the required modifications in order to be great.

All statistics provided by Cleaning the Glass and Basketball-Reference


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