In a moment, Oubre went from a Hawks franchise that finished with the Eastern Conference’s best record last season to a Wizards team that appears to be on the rise. Led by a core of young guards, including John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards finished 46-36 last season and claimed a first-round playoff series before bowing out to Atlanta in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Wizards, too, might soon have room on the wing, in part because former Kansas star Paul Pierce, 37, is expected to test free agency before what could be his final NBA season.
“Hopefully Paul will still be there,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “And Paul and John Wall and Bradley Beal … and Drew Gooden can help mentor him, which would be really big.”
On the basketball court, the Washington Wizards are willing to be patient with the 19-year-old Oubre.
Washington moved up four spots in the first round to get the Kansas freshman in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks, who selected Oubre with the 15th overall pick Thursday night.
"We're not expecting him to come in here next year and take over the program," Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said.
In New York, Oubre's white slip-ons got their share of attention, as did this declaration during ESPN's coverage of the draft: "Whoever gets me is getting a jewel."
During a conference call with reporters in Washington, Oubre explained his shoes this way: "Just being stylish, man. I have swag, so I know for sure that I can steal the show with some of the stuff that I put on."
He pronounced himself ready to give the Wizards "300 percent" and explained, "I have confidence in myself, so I believed that I was a top-10 pick from the get-go."
Oubre had 41 steals a year ago, and at the NBA combine his wingspan measured 7-2 — making him easily tall and long enough to guard multiple positions.
Oubre was originally projected to be a late lottery pick, but that didn’t happen when Oklahoma City picked Murray State guard Cameron Payne.
“My expectation was to go top 10,” Oubre said. “It doesn’t work out like that for everybody. I feel like I’m one of the top 10 players in this draft. I’ve been through some bumps and bruises in college and I’ll go through some bumps and bruises in the NBA. But I’m ready to help this team win a championship.”
…NBA rookies don’t have their teenage hubris fried out of them like the bygone nutrients of a now-palatable potato. And that’s fine. Good teams absorb characters into their DNA, making room for a player’s personality within the structure and veteran hierarchy of the locker room.
There’s probably no non-injury situation, or amount of confidence, that gets Oubre into the starting lineup on opening night. This is Randy Wittman’s team, after all, and if Paul Pierce decides to sign elsewhere, the 3 will belong to Otto Porter, who has paid two years of steep, splintered dues. Point is: there’ll be plenty of time for the kid to have introspective, humbling self-reflections after getting sonned in practice by actual NBA players. Moments after becoming a millionaire, it’s OK to pledge undying allegiance to yourself, probably.
Comcast SportsNet’s J. Michael spoke with Kansas assistant coach Kurt Townsend, who said:
“I recruited Bradley Beal for four years, recruited John Wall. I know those guys. He’s a high character guy. They’ll really like him. He never got into any trouble off the court at all. He really wants to be good. He’s a great kid.”
Oubre’s jump shot is smooth, his release point is high, and his mechanics are good. He shot 36 percent on 3-pointers last season at Kansas, but should improve much like Bradley Beal did (34% in his lone season at the University of Florida) due to his already-polished form. Randy Wittman, sly and modern cad that he is, even suggested that Oubre could slide between the 2, 3, and 4 in the new, increasingly positionless, toy soldier NBA. Any player drafted 15th overall has weaknesses, and Wizards fans will become intimately familiar with those possessed by Oubre over the next several years.
There’s a chance that team president Ernie Grunfeld may have been overthinking things when he traded up for Oubre, especially since another Wizards target, playmaking power forward Bobby Portis, ended up being available at Washington’s original draft slot. But Grunfeld, man of vision and team president for life, saw a 3-man rotation of Beal, Porter, and Oubre in Washington’s future.
To that end, Ryen Rusillo and Chad Ford had a very insightful discussion on Kelly Oubre in a recent podcast for Grantland, which you can listen to here. The whole podcast is worth a listen, but the good stuff on Oubre comes at the 41 minute mark. Below is a transcript of their chat:
Rusillo: The way he would attack the rim sometimes, you would just want to tell Oubre "Hey, this isn't working, OK?" These drives, it's great to be able to say you want to drive to the rim, but eventually it has to pay off with some sort of a reward for the team, and it didn't always happen. But physically, he's an NBA wing a year out of high school.
Ford: I watched every Kansas game this season. No one frustrated me more than Kelly Oubre because the talent's there, and often, the evidence wasn't there on the court. In fact, a lot of NBA scouts were like, "I'm watching tape like, what exactly does he do well again?"
But here was the thing; I went to Santa Barbara, and Drew Hanlen, who I really respect, he's a trainer. He's Bradley Beal's guy, trained Andrew Wiggins last year. And he said something to me that I thought really stood out, because I thought he looked a lot better in Santa Barbara and I was a little bit surprised and he's like You know, I got the kid in, he's gotten by on his size, his athletic ability, and just raw instincts his whole career. He's never had training, he's never been taught, he's never looked at film, he doesn't really know what's going on. The word a basketball GM used was "basketball illiterate." And I think nobody really taught him how to read, right? He just went out and played. Based on everything we've heard
Rusillo: That makes sense on those drives.
Ford: And that's why he ran into so much trouble at Kansas, even defensively, he didn't know what was going on, on the court. He couldn't read and understand plays. But Drew told me, look, this kid is going three-a-days right now in workouts and that he's coming to my house at night and watching film every night and we're breaking down the film and he can't get enough of it. And that got me excited because look, if that's the problem, just the lack of education about the game -- now it takes time to develop those instincts and have that knowledge translate to the court, and I think Kelly Oubre is going to be in a rocky start in the NBA -- but if he's going to put in that work, and he's going to work with Drew every summer and if he's going to keep breaking down film and everything else, Kelly Oubre could be a monster in the NBA. With a 7'2" wingspan, he moves well, P3's also got him more explosive [Note: P3 is an athletic training firm Oubre worked with before the draft.] and more bouncy. They've worked on the hitch in his shot, he's shooting the ball better. If he develops, the Wizards got an absolute steal at 15.
I know it's a risk, and maybe he'll get to the NBA and the money and he'll quit doing all that. But if he does what he's been doing the past two months with Drew, and I told Kelly, "If you keep this up, that's why Steph Curry and all these guys are great because they never stop working on their game. They never stop learning. He's got a chance to be great.
Depending on your outlook, this is either very encouraging or very discouraging. But regardless of how you feel, it's clearly going to take Oubre some time to have an impact on the NBA level. On the bright side, the Wizards won't have to convince him he can't just get by on his athleticism. His humbling experience at Kansas showed him he needs to develop in order to make a difference and he appears ready and eager to learn what he needs to do to improve.
If Kelly Oubre somehow lures KD to D.C., then Ernie Grunfeld is a genius and I will eat my hat. If Kelly Oubre is what he appears to be, and he doesn’t have mind control over Kevin Durant, then he will likely end up being yet another installment in the long line of failed projects Grunfeld has brought to town. Nothing against Kelly Oubre — knowing the Wizards he would probably flourish elsewhere in the NBA — this is a statement against Ernie Grunfeld.
But unlike last June's draft, in which the Jayhawks accounted for half of the first four off the board, including No. 1 overall selection Andrew Wiggins, Oubre's kicks were, literally and figuratively, the highlight of the evening locally.
…And just because you can't fly with Maple Jordan doesn't mean you ain't, well, fly. Like the Oscars, fashion rules on draft night. Our man Kelly had that covered, thanks to a pair of shoes straight out of the magical world of Oz:
Fox Sports Keeler
Bill Self fired off a text message to Cliff Alexander late Thursday night, after the NBA Draft had ended, after the former Kansas forward waited for more than five hours to hear his name on national television.
…Self, keeping tabs on the draft from his home, crafted a message on his phone and hit send.
“Hey, I know this is tough,” Self told Alexander, relaying the contents of the message to reporters later Thursday night. “But it’s not the worst thing that happened.”
Self’s message, he said, was direct. If Alexander wasn’t going to get drafted in the top half of the second round, it was better for him to go undrafted, to have the freedom to sign with any team.
“That’s hard for anybody to understand from an ego standpoint,” Self said. “But he gets to pick the 30 teams to go to now, as opposed to being locked in on one team. You get drafted 55, you’re locked in on that one team. And that one team cuts you late, you could potentially be out of work totally.”
…Self, meanwhile, pushed back against the idea that Alexander was hurt by comments he made about Kansas during the pre-draft process. In multiple interviews, Alexander referred to getting dealt “a bad deck of cards” while at Kansas. In the moments after the draft on Thursday, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas wondered aloud on air if the comments may have scared off NBA teams.
“He did get dealt a bad hand,” Self said. “That’s exactly what I told Cliff all along. Cliff always said what I told him: He got dealt a bad hand with the NCAA. He got dealt a bad hand.
“That’s what I told him, when it all went down with the NCAA, I said, ‘Cliff, you haven’t done anything wrong, you’ve been dealt a bad hand. You just got to hang in there and deal with whatever.’
In Self’s view, Alexander was not being negative toward Kansas.
“That wasn’t a negative toward Kansas at all, to say he got dealt a bad hand,” Self said. “I asked him about it, and he said, “Coach, that’s what you told me.’ And I said, ‘That’s exactly right, bud. That’s exactly what I told you.’”
When asked if he ever imagined that Alexander, a top prospect, would one day go undrafted, Self said “probably not, but you’re dealing strictly on the negative.”
“Pay Heed. The game you love began here. Respect those who came before you. Make their legacy your own. Because destiny favors the dedicated. And rings don’t replace work. In this game you don’t get what you want. You get what you earn. We are Kansas. Together we rise. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!