On December 28, 2018, pre-game for the Suns-Wizards tilt at Talking Stick Resort Arena, Kelly Oubre Jr. could be overheard talking about his future. Fans who were sitting courtside yelled at him this one question: “Stay, Kelly!”
Oubre replied: “Talk to James [Jones], I wanna stay.”
As Oubre told the local media on Tuesday after re-signing in Phoenix on a two-year, $30 million deal, this situation always felt like home upon arrival. There was always constant communication back-and-forth throughout the regular season relaying this thought. From the Suns’ point of view, it was well known around the league retaining Oubre was always their top priority.
Oubre went on to rewrite career highs across every single box score category, posting career-best marks in points (16.9), rebounds (4.9), assists (1.6), steals (1.4), blocks (1.0), and free throw attempts per game (4.0). And over his final 12 games where he started, Phoenix went 6-6 while Oubre flashed true high-end two-way potential averaging 20.2 points, 2.1 steals, and 0.9 blocks.
The biggest impact Oubre made for the Phoenix Suns was, arguably, his infectious attitude. Oubre lights up a room whenever he walks in, and his personality blended perfectly next to Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Mikal Bridges.
When you add all these factors together, it’s apparent why Oubre is valued so highly by the Suns’ front office. Keeping Oubre around might have even played a slight role in securing Monty Williams’s commitment as head coach. Williams definitely believes there’s more untapped potential available in Oubre’s portfolio.
“He was one of the reasons I was excited about the job,” Williams said during Oubre’s re-introductory press conference. “I haven’t talked about that a lot, but I loved his versatility from afar being in Philly and San Antonio. Offensively, defensively he’s one of the guys in the league that fits today’s game and even past eras of basketball. I think Kelly has the ability to play in many eras of our game.
“So, for me, it’s about a level of comfort. To have somebody who has experience, but still has room to improve. I think it goes along with our competitive environment that we’re trying to promote and establish. I love his energy. I love his passion.”
When the Suns originally acquired Oubre, it was not viewed as a long-term play swapping out a disgruntled Trevor Ariza. Well, it turned into a bargain trade even though Memphis’ Dillon Brooks was their original top target before the whole Dillon or MarShon Brooks fiasco.
The 23-year-old wing had to prove himself right away with Phoenix, showing a new regime why he had the potential to fit so well offensively next to their two building blocks. It paid off because they later salary dumped T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson to ink Oubre’s extension.
“My favorite color is purple,” Oubre joked. “Honestly, James found me in D.C. He gave me an opportunity. It’s just been a blessing ever since. Obviously the numbers don’t lie. You see how my game evolved when I got here, and it happened the right way. It didn’t come immediately, nothing was given to me.”
Back on the energy aspect with Oubre for just a moment. That spark I spoke of earlier, it reverberated throughout the locker room. Stepping into a situation as a “older” young player, Oubre’s leadership role blossomed into something much more. He was the vocal leader all while always being his vibrant self. When building a culture from the ground up, one that can actually have sustained success, these underlying factors matter. Oubre’s presence both on and off the court is more valuable in Phoenix than it will be anywhere else around the Association.
Oubre spoke about wanting to improve two areas of his game the most — outside shooting and playmaking — but expect his leadership to go up another notch next season. Now comfortable in his new confines with more structure around him, there’s at least a possibility the uber-athletic 6’7” forward takes another leap forward solidifying as a bonafide two-way starting wing.
“For me, I just want to bring energy — positive energy,” Oubre said. “Just continue to push everybody around me to get better because if I do that, then I’m getting better too. I just want to be a leader honestly. Come in just lead these guys. Just be a family, man. On the court it’ll take care of itself because we have a great coach and great staff, so off the court just continue to be a positive leader. Just help everybody.”
For those curious about Valley Boyz merchandise, Oubre told Suns.com’s Lindsey Smith that it will be available later this week online. Also, there’s a good chance pop-up shops will happen in the Phoenix area.
Where did the Valley Boyz name originate? Well, as Oubre said on Tuesday, he and Deandre Ayton brainstormed it following a game. From there, it stuck and became a widespread saying amongst Suns fans. Once Oubre trademarked the phrase in late March, alarm bells should’ve went off relating to his long-term future. I highly doubt someone goes about trademarking something if they plan on leaving three months later.
“I’m a Valley Boy, though, that’s all I gotta say,” Oubre said as he ended his opening statement.
Phoenix has emphasized over and over again all of their offseason moves have been based completely around maximizing the strengths of Booker and Ayton. Retaining Oubre helps with that, because him playing next to the Suns’ inside-out duo resulted in potent offensive efficiency at 113.8 points per 100 possessions. Out of the four wings in the rotation last season, Oubre had considerable distance between himself (plus-2.9) and Mikal Bridges (minus-5.0), Josh Jackson (minus-3.0), and T.J. Warren (minus-10.4) for 3-man net ratings alongside Booker and Ayton.
A new foundation has been laid in Phoenix, and the Suns’ energetic forward can’t wait to hit the ground running. The young core of Booker, Ayton, Bridges, and Oubre is in place with the proper ancillary pieces surrounding them. Now, it’s time to finally flip the script and notch victories.
“We have a foundation now where we’re starting from the ground up — and now we can really get to work,” Oubre said. “We can start from day one working on our habits and continue those and buy-in to what coach is saying. That’s what really the challenge. We’re all talented individually, but collectively we can be something special.”