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Reviewing Kelly Oubre Jr.’s season, and what’s to come next for Oubre and the Suns

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Utah Jazz Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Kelly Oubre Jr. had quite a remarkable 2019/2020 campaign and solidified himself as a staple in the Phoenix Suns core moving forward. The devastating news of his torn meniscus was first reported by Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports on Thursday afternoon. Although the news hasn’t been confirmed by the team yet, it seems likely that he is done for the year. He is seeking a second opinion, so there should be an update relatively soon.

In the midst of a breakout season, Oubre posted career-highs (per-game) in the following stats: points, rebounds, assists, steals, true shooting percent, free throw attempt rate, and VORP (value over replacement player). He stepped up in a season where the Suns faced a heap of adversity right out of the gate and quickly cemented himself as a legitimate number two option next to Devin Booker when Deandre Ayton was suspended for 25 games.

One thing the statistics can’t measure is the all-out effort Oubre consistently played with. He was a constant spark-plug and made big plays when they needed them most. Whether it was the mildly aggressive head-bobs, doing pushups after a fall, blowing kisses to the crowd or opposing benches, he always backed up the theatrics with highlight reel plays when they desperately needed them.

Below is a quick example that I put together of the kind of ferocity that he displayed throughout the season. It seemed like every night there was a new victim in the Kelly Oubre poster tour.

Kelly also made another appearance in the NBA deflections leaderboard after finishing 12th in deflections per game last season (3.0), he is currently averaging 3.1 deflections per game which is good for 12th in the entire league this year (min. 40 games played).

In The Clutch

Another area where Oubre shined throughout the year (along with the big defensive plays) was in hitting clutch shots. Sam Cooper tweeted a statistic that shouldn’t be all that shocking to Suns fans, as Oubre shot an astounding 48 percent on “clutch” three pointers this season.

Clutch scoring is measured by the final five minutes of games when the score is within a five point margin in either direction.

Whenever Phoenix needed a big three in the final minutes of a close game — and Oubre took it — it felt like it was going in automatically.

Here is one of my favorite sequences from any Suns player this year (right up there with Devin Booker’s knockout punch against Orlando at home). Oubre completely takes over the game here on both ends, knocking down two clutch threes and playing disruptive defense to help secure the win over the Hornets.

The ability to impact a game that dramatically in the final minute of a game is supremely impressive for a 24 year old. Oh yeah, and that reminds me. He just turned 24 a couple months ago, which makes him the “oldest” of the Suns “core four”. It’s times like these that you remember just how young this team is and how much room for improvement there is across the board.

Areas Of Improvement

Now that Kelly will be on the bench getting a courtside seat to witness all the action, he should be able to pick up on certain things he might not have seen if he was playing. Two areas he needs to improve in are his decision-making (shot selection) and court vision (playmaking). Some of his questionable shots will have you saying, “Kelly, no, no, no.... yeah!” (after it goes in) and he does have the ability to hit tough shots so I won’t get on him too much for that.

At times he can get tunnel-vision on his drives and miss wide open kick outs for a corner three or miss Deandre Ayton diving baseline for example. If he can get the assists numbers up a bit and improve on creating for others it would make Phoenix a much more dangerous offensive team. I believe that’s the next step for his personal growth as a player.

Looking Ahead

The Suns lineup with Rubio, Booker, Oubre, Bridges and Ayton was an NBA-best +20.2 in net rating in 226 minutes. That is roughly equivalent to 4.7 full 48 minute games worth of action— a very small, yet encouraging sample size. Entering next season they will have all five of those guys returning, which is a welcome sight for an organization that has very much lacked any sort of stability ever since Steve Nash departed.

Entering next season the following wings are under contract: Kelly Oubre Jr., Mikal Bridges, and Cameron Johnson. This trio is no different than what they had entering this season, but now there are a couple of injury red flags that you simply cannot ignore now with Kelly Oubre Jr., and Cam Johnson’s medical history as well. I believe adding another versatile wing should be a priority even if they keep all three moving forward.

Insurance Wing Targets

The obvious and cheap(ish) long-term options would come through the NBA Draft, and a couple names that could go around their range and make sense would be forwards Isaac Okoro and Deni Avdija. Both are projected lottery picks and I could envision either playing both forward positions which would help add to the versatility they already have on the wing. Some other targets that may be more realistic in their draft range: Patrick Williams, Devin Vassell, Saddiq Bey, and Aaron Nesmith. Ideally you’d like add someone that can play either forward position to optimize the roster’s positional flexibility.

Free agency is another avenue where they can look to add a wing that offers them depth in case of an injury to one of their three wings. If they wind up drafting a guard or trading their pick then I believe this is the most likely route they take to fill this insurance wing position.

If the speculation is true, there is a potential internal option with ESPN reporting that Jordan McRae is likely to sign with the Phoenix Suns after being released by the Denver Nuggets on Sunday morning.

By claiming McRae off waivers, Phoenix would grant itself McRae’s early bird rights, as he currently has a $1.7 million FA cap hold. McRae was having a productive season in Washington before getting traded to the Nuggets at the trade deadline. He is 6’5” with a 7’0” wingspan, meaning he can hang in there playing some forward at times if necessary, but he is best served as a combo guard. If he finishes the season strong and they want to bring him back, that could help give them a little ease of mind at that spot entering next season.

Final Verdict

Overall, I give Kelly Oubre an “A” grade on his season, as he took a leap that many of us hoped he would, proving that his stint after arriving in Phoenix last season was no fluke, but rather indicative of what was to come. He makes $14,375,000 million next season in the final year of his 2 year, 30 million dollar contract and will become an unrestricted free agent in 2021.

Entering a contract season, he will be hungry and have something to prove so I expect his rapid improvement to only continue. I look forward to tracking his progress in the recovery process and seeing what next steps he takes in his development in the renovated Talking Stick Resort Arena.

King’s Note: Welcome Brandon / Zona Sports (@AZSportsZone) to the Bright Side team!

Brandon is regular on twitter as a big Suns fan, and recently has covered the NAZ Suns a couple of times up in Flagstaff as well. He manages the website, which includes a lot of NBA Draft coverage and Suns coverage, plus other Valley sports.

Brandon will also become a regular blog contributor on here as well! I’m very excited to add Zona Sports to the Bright Side writing team!

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