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Kelly Oubre Jr. is proving why the Suns need to pay up to keep him around past this season

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Oubre Jr.’s infectious energy and two-way versatility is making waves in Phoenix.

Milwaukee Bucks v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

“It’s the wave,” Kelly Oubre Jr. said after the win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday when asked how he’s able to be so effective.

That wave has cascaded into Phoenix with wonderful results. Whether it’s his on-court antics where he does push ups after diving for loose balls or waiving the first down signal following a forced turnover, the 23-year-old wing out of Kansas has quickly won over the Suns’ fanbase and his new teammates.

Playing behind John Wall and Bradley Beal in Washington, Oubre Jr. was never able to fully spread his wings. Well, the wings are spread across the Valley as he’s putting up career-high numbers across the board.

“He’s been a real spark for this team,” Tyler Johnson said after Tuesday’s practice. “I mean, I think it’s wonderful to watch because — I won’t say put in a box because he’s playing behind two All-Stars it’s going to be more difficult for you to showcase everything you might able to — but since he’s been here he’s been great. It’s beautiful to watch.”

During the Suns’ current 4-1 stretch where they rank in the top 10 for both offensive and defensive efficiency, Oubre Jr. has been a bright spot. In 29.3 minutes, the self-named ‘Tsunami Papi’ is averaging 18.8 points, 7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1 block while carrying a true shooting percentage of 56 and being an ideal buoy as the third scoring option behind Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.

Since his Suns debut on Dec. 19 in Boston, Oubre Jr. is averaging 16.1 points, 1.3 steals and 1 block. Robert Covington is the only other wing putting up those numbers, but he’s only played seven games over this current stretch pretty much disqualifying him altogether. Oubre Jr.’s two-way impact has been immense, which is making him plenty of money in the process.

However, the lanky wing isn’t just prioritizing a new contract since his arrival. He’s stepped into a leadership role alongside the Suns’ young core members like Booker. As Johnson put it nicely, the bubbly personality of Oubre Jr. is rubbing off in one of the best ways possible.

“Yeah he has,” Johnson said of Oubre Jr. being a leader. “He’s very vocal. He definitely brings a great sense of energy both on and off the court. When you enjoy being around certain people, then it’s a little easier to go out and fight with them.”

The numbers speak for themselves when comparing Oubre Jr. to the Suns’ other wings too. When on the court with Booker and Deandre Ayton, their 3-man net rating is plus-5.0 in 325 minutes. Not only is that the best on the team, but it’s the only one that is even positive. Oubre Jr. also ranks No. 1 in two-man lineups for other players in the rotation playing next to Booker and Ayton themselves (Booker/Oubre Jr. = minus-2.1 NetRtg in 542 minutes; Ayton/Oubre Jr. = minus-1.8 NetRtg in 463 minutes).

In less than three months, Oubre Jr. has supplanted not only Josh Jackson amongst most Suns fans, as far as preference of keeping around for the next great version of this team, but also their longest tenured player in T.J. Warren. Since Warren went down with his ankle injury on Jan. 22, which has been a recurring issue on-and-off throughout the season, the wing two years younger than him has taken his role and ran with it.

Not only has Oubre Jr. taken on Warren’s volume scoring role but also providing versatility on the defensive end that wasn’t there before. Let’s take a head-to-head look at Warren’s total season averages and Oubre Jr.’s since Warren has been out of the rotation.

Oubre Jr.: 17.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.7 steals, 1 block; 43.0 FG%, 27.0 3PT%

Warren: 18.0 points, 4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.7 blocks; 48.6 FG%, 42.8 3PT%

Those numbers look pretty similar, and the real stark difference between these two is shooting and production on defense. Oubre Jr. adds nearly a whole point more in terms of box score impact defensively (Oubre Jr. = 2.7, Warren = 1.9) but Warren is in a whole different class from a shooting perspective following his sudden shift to becoming a three-point marksman.

The thing is, Oubre Jr. has been the most consistent. Whether it’s pouring in 15-20 points or making crucial plays as a secondary rim protector, you can’t classify the former Kansas Jayhawk as a one-trick pony. And in Warren’s absence, he’s gained even more trust from Booker as a reliable scoring option.

Mikal Bridges seems like the wing who has the least to worry about this offseason, as far as being safe from being moved. However, Oubre Jr. is inching closer towards joining him leaving Warren and Josh Jackson as the two wings in question for the short and long-term.

Speaking of Bridges and Oubre Jr., those two on the floor with Booker and Ayton has netted great results thus far. The four-man lineup of Booker, Ayton, Bridges and Oubre Jr. has a plus-0.5 NetRtg in 143 minutes.

Swap out Oubre Jr. with Jackson or Warren and that total dips, though. Warren’s defense has been such a black hole next to Booker and Ayton where it doesn’t even matter, while Jackson’s major inconsistencies on offense have led to many unwatchable spurts.

Any way you want to slice it, the Suns’ newest addition on the wing is beginning to find his groove within head coach Igor Kokoskov’s system. And on top of that, he’s meshed seamlessly with the three most important pieces to the core past this season.

If this level of play continues through the final 16 games, how will this impact Oubre Jr.’s price on the open market? As a restricted free agent, the vibrant 23-year-old has the ability to sign an offer sheet with any team with the Suns having the rights to match.

Oubre Jr.’s qualifying offer of $9.6 million will be exceeded, but how high will that price go exactly? I’ve been thinking a nice range for the probable annual salary Oubre Jr. will receives ends up around $13-16 million.

For Phoenix, I believe an offer of $54 million over four years (13.5 million annually) makes the most sense for both sides.

Covington, who makes $15.5 million per year, is a proper baseline to follow. Oubre Jr. is five years younger than Covington, but he’s not yet on his level defensively or really close from a shooting perspective. With this framework, Oubre Jr. would be making on average $1 million more than Warren (4-year, $50 million extension signed last offseason).

“Since he’s been here, he’s helped this team tremendously on both sides of the floor,” Booker said following Oubre Jr.’s career-high outburst on Monday against Milwaukee. “He’s not scared to go get a block. He’s going to rebound for us and he’s making shots. So, unbelievable addition for us.”

Now, we wait and see if the wave will extend past this season in the Valley. Early results indicate it should be an easy decision for the Suns’ front office as it relates to Oubre Jr: pay the man.