Oubre up to task of increased role for Wizards

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If you’re a fan of the Wizards, you know what Kelly Oubre Jr. is about by now. Now in his third NBA season, Oubre has become a fan favorite for his flare off the floor and his fiery attitude on it.

With early season injury keeping starting power forward Markieff Morris out of the lineup in the first seven games of the season, Oubre has gotten to showcase his matured game in a featured role for Washington. It’s a big reason the Wizards are off to a winning start.

Since sliding into Morris’ starting spot after Jason Smith missed games with a sore shoulder in the season opener, Oubre has shined bright to the tune of 11.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and nearly a full block per game. Of course, that’s helped by a career-high 33.2 minutes per contest, but per 36 minutes, his field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and more still mark career-highs. Simply put, Oubre has become a difference-maker on more than just the defensive end of the floor, and that’s exactly what the Wizards had in mind for their uber-athletic young wing in year three.

After falling a game short of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals last season, head coach Scott Brooks and Oubre both knew that the former Jayhawk’s growth was one of the big keys to unlocking the door to the East’s top echelon in 2017-18. It was part of their parting conversation as summer began.

“To come back a more consistent player, not only making shots every game, that’s always obviously nice to have, but having a consistent mindset defensively,” said Brooks when asked Tuesday what areas he and Oubre discussed for his development. “To take the challenge to guard the best players.”

The numbers prove that Oubre’s added consistency on both ends of the floor so far. He’s visibly more comfortable with his jump shot – particularly from 3-point range, where he’s more than doubled his production and dramatically improved his efficiency – and is currently boasting a career-low defensive rating.

For a player who will turn only 22 in December, Brooks knew that Oubre was far from a finished product. And for a coach with a well-known propensity for development, Brooks also knows that Oubre’s jump in production with added opportunity isn’t the end goal, either. After all, the calendar has only just turned to November.

“He has the ability, and at times last year it went up and down. But he hasn’t had those dips yet this year, though it’s early,” said Brooks. “He’s definitely improved with all of the hard work he put in."

With Morris returning to the lineup soon, a starting role may be fleeting for Oubre this season. And while that will mark a slight change in when he hits the floor, it likely won’t mean many diminished minutes. Oubre has earned an increased role that’s going to last no matter the starting lineup. After all, he’s been part of one of the Wizards’ most effective lineups dating back to last season. So far this year, Washington’s lineup of Oubre, John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and Marcin Gortat has been the NBA’s best by net rating (23.6) among lineups that have logged at least 50 minutes together.

Now, the next step is becoming even more well-rounded and consistent. Continuing to shoot around 40 percent from beyond the arc while adding his defense and rebounding ability will do wonders for the Wizards and would make for a remarkable third year, but that’s not all Oubre has in mind. He’s worked diligently on putting the ball on the floor, hitting floaters in traffic and more.

Oubre’s only 21 years old, so his upward trajectory figures to continue well beyond 2017-18. That will come with shooting slumps, tough outings and more as it does for any young player in world’s best basketball league. But for the young Wizard that likes to make his own waves anyway, the path remains fairly simple.

“To continue to work hard,” Oubre said Tuesday. “(Brooks) knows my work ethic and that I want to succeed so bad. My job is to come back better than the year before, than the day before.”

And about those inevitable bumps in the road, occasional criticism and all that comes with added visibility in the NBA?

“I’m using it all as positives,” Oubre said. “Just continuing to stay on the right track.”