Instantly upon Kelly Oubre Jr.’s arrival in December from the Washington Wizards in exchange for a disgruntled Trevor Ariza, the fit clicked for the Suns from all angles. Oubre, who quickly became a favorite not only for the fans but inside the locker room as well, saw career-high marks eclipsed all along the way during his new chapter in Phoenix.
After averaging a promising stat line of 16.9 points, 1.4 steals, and 1 block per game during a 40-game sample size, Oubre earned a new $30 million contract keeping him with the Suns at least through 2020-21. The 6’7” wing credits his quick bonding with the franchise’s two primary building blocks, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, to his immediate success last season.
“It was just organic,” Oubre said of his in-season transition from the Wizards to Suns. “Very seamless when I came to the team. Me and Book played against each other on upcoming circuits throughout high school. DA, we have the same agent (Nima Namakian of BDA Sports), so we already knew each other. It was just kind of an easy transition because we are like-minded individuals, so we just help each other a lot.”
When you watch Oubre play, what trait stands out right away? It is his infectious energy that his teammates thrive off. When Oubre would create a block or slam in transition, it usually helped boost a player like Ayton up for a few extra possessions. The Suns’ newly paid two-way wing is also one who does pushups whenever he falls to the ground, so you’ll see his charismatic personality ooze through the hardwood.
This frenetic pace with rockstar flair from Oubre has evolved over the years, but it all began in college where he realized what will make him standout the most.
“When I was at Kansas, I really wasn’t scoring like that, so I had to play defense and bring the energy,” Oubre said. “It kind of taught me what my role is in this league, first and foremost.”
That first test was passed as Oubre ended up being selected No. 15 overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, two spots after his good friend and teammate Booker. From there, the energy guy began to find his footing in the league alongside players such as John Wall and Bradley Beal.
“I was that guy for the Wizards,” Oubre said of his usual nightly assignment. “That role kinda just came to me because I was the youngest on the team. I had the most energy, but that’s just who I am. I like to rage. I like to have fun. I like to get the crowd involved. Just go out there and have fun with it, that’s all I’m doing.”
Oubre, the player who exudes fun on the basketball court, still has a throwback style he loves to bring out. The former Kansas Jayhawk cuts his teeth on defense. That’s where the lanky forward stands out the most with surprisingly strong advanced defensive metrics (2.3 STL%, 2.8 BLK%).
To be honest, if Oubre is able to take another step forward in his all-around game, especially perimeter shooting, there’s no reason to believe he can’t reach an elite role player level within the next two years. Oubre can be similar to Robert Covington and Otto Porter: two-way wings who were paid handsomely on their next contracts.
As Oubre admits, he cares more about trying to lock up the player across from him than scoring. It’s his primary trait that made him much richer this summer. And the fifth-year pro now has high standards on that end of the floor he wants to reach.
“I’m a defensive-minded first player,” Oubre said. “I take pride in being a two-way athlete. Just not somebody who is a one-dimensional player. So, defense is my first bread and butter that got me where I am today. ... I’m just going to continue to hone in on that and try to be the best defender I can. My goal is definitely first-team All-Defense multiple times in my career, Defensive Player Of The Year, stuff like that.”
One way Oubre can help reach those lofty benchmarks is going one-on-one with Mikal Bridges everyday in practice. Those two quickly usurped T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson as the preferred long-term wing partnership alongside Booker and Ayton due to their versatile skillsets.
The Stretch Bros, as Oubre playfully nicknamed he and Bridges, have helped each other progress along the way. Oubre, who has three more years NBA experience than Bridges, picks the latter’s brain because his floor sense is very advanced.
“Hell yeah,” Oubre said of Bridges helping him get better. “We call each other The Stretch Bros because we have long arms. He’s a great defender as well. And he’s very smart, so it’s really good to pick his brain as well. Although we’re the same age, I’ve been in the league longer than him, but his IQ is on another level. So, to be able to learn from somebody like that, to be able to help him through this process, is amazing.”
Now settling into his role with the Suns after adjusting on the fly last season, Oubre is also ready to take on more from a leadership point of view. Oubre is already a vocal presence, but he’s more than ready to step up to the plate and becoming a soundboard for others to lean on.
Positive reinforcement goes a long way, which is Oubre’s preferred leadership. It sounds like a great opportunity for the Suns’ 23-year-old forward to progress in another key aspect of his game.
“My leadership style: I try to remain positive,” Oubre said. “I don’t try to just yell at people, get on them when they mess up. I’d rather help these guys comfortably learn through this whole year. Rookies, anybody else that needs help, but also try to ask them for advice as well. Try to evolve and show them that they’re a leader. So, I just like to encourage and be positive.”
Oubre is going to take his lessons learned from a chaotic atmosphere in Washington to a revived situation with the Suns. With an entirely new roster surrounding him and the preferred long-term pieces, Oubre wants to help whoever he can succeed as much as they can.
Turmoil can be easy to get through, as Oubre noted about his Wizards stint, but avoiding it altogether and staying together is the key to sustained harmony.
“I just keep my energy the same,” Oubre said. “The new guys that have come in, kinda just try to get on their team so we can help lead each other. Not necessarily having a bunch of guys telling each other what to do, but it’s more so working together. One thing I learned in Washington, we had a lot of turmoil throughout the time that I was there, but it was very easy to fix and get through. Every time we would go through something as a team, as a unit, we would get through it together. That’s just one thing I know I can help everybody here is that we need to be together. It’s not one individuals team. At the end of the day, we kinda have to be on the same side and push each other to be great. That’s all I do. I just want to help people succeed. In return, they help me succeed as well.”
Oubre is completely bought into head coach Monty Williams’ program and ready to ascend another level earning over $15 million this season.
If all goes well for Oubre, there’s a real chance he takes the biggest leap forward with all the new pieces around him. Ricky Rubio at the point guard position will help take advantage of Oubre’s energetic pace. Added spacing should make him even more of a threat on cuts to the basket, too.
The Suns’ presumed starting small forward proved last year to those who paid attention he’s more than a pretty face.
As Phoenix tries to finally turn this ship around, Oubre’s presence on and off the court will go a long way towards helping change their image. It’s a welcome change after his old team didn’t feel paying him was in the best long-term interest of the organization.