For a rookie in the NBA, the first season can go by in a blink of an eye. Some of those rookies have what it takes to become a part of the rotation immediately, while others take the time to develop by watching from the bench or spending time down in the D-League getting their skills up to par. For Washington Wizards’ rookie Kelly Oubre Jr., his rookie campaign was a bit of a roller coaster ride.
After trading for the 6’7″ wing on draft night, it seemed as if he would have a great opportunity to earn some playing time right out of the gate with the roster looking slim. Once the free agency period began, those chances of Oubre Jr. seeing significant minutes disappeared quickly. Despite losing Paul Pierce, the Wizards brought in other veterans such as Jared Dudley, Alan Anderson, and Gary Neal to bolster depth at small forward and shooting guard. Otto Porter Jr. was already the projected starting small forward, so if Oubre Jr. was to get playing time, it would be the last minutes of an already decided game.
The Wizards were crippled throughout the early months of the NBA season and some games only had eight players suiting up to play. It was an issue that ultimately resulted in them missing the postseason for the first time since the 2012-13 season. One positive out of it was Oubre Jr. gained crucial playing time and even started in nine games.
As expected, there were times during those stretch of games where Oubre Jr. looked like the 19-year-old that he was. But then there were also times where he and John Wall seemed to begin developing a solid chemistry on the offensive end. A point guard of Wall’s talent requires knockdown shooters around the perimeter, and that’s the role Oubre Jr. was attempting to take on.
One the veterans returned from injury, Oubre started slowly moving down the bench game by game to the point where he would barely touch the floor. His final stat line for last season was 3.7 points and 2.1 rebounds per game. He appeared in 63 games and averaged 10.7 minutes per.
Oubre is now heading into his sophomore season with a better understanding of the NBA game and what it takes to be successful at this level. This doesn’t only include on the court improvement. It requires maintenance on your body such as working out, getting up shots, and making sure your diet is on point. Those are just a few things that the young kids of the league fail to grasp in just one season, but once they see how their teammates handle themselves, it becomes a part of their lifestyle.
The current depth chart has Porter Jr. and Oubre Jr. as the only two small forwards. There still is a chance that a more experienced free agent can be signed prior to the regular season, but even so, there is still a very strong possibility that Oubre Jr. is one of the first players to come off the bench. New head coach Scott Brooks loves to develop young players. That’s yet another reason why Oubre Jr. should expect to take on a much bigger role than last season when Randy Wittman was at the helm.
Oubre Jr. is certainly in the long-term plan for this franchise to eventually become the wing player they’ve needed. Porter Jr. has improved significantly over the past season, but there still remains questions of whether or not he can be consistent throughout an 82-game season.
Judging from the money they gave Ian Mahinmi this summer, he will most likely be the first player off the bench as the sixth man, but leave no mistake, Oubre Jr. will take on the scoring role for the reserve lineup.
D.C. fans love the former Kansas Jayhawk and wanted to see him play more than he did in 2015-16. With a reconstructed roster and a coach that understands how to make young players successful NBA stars, their wishes will come into fruition.