As the days of the NCAA basketball season wind down, the calendar creeps toward a fateful day for Kansas fans: April 26, 2015. Kelly Oubre Jr., the University of Kansas’s ultra-skilled, silky-smooth wing, will have an important decision to make by that date. Will he stay with Kansas, or will he go into the NBA Draft?
Will Oubre’s NBA-ready athleticism and smooth, effective shooting stroke outweigh his inconsistent scoring and ball-handling? Will his defensive lateral quickness, length, and aggressiveness be enough to outweigh his shaky defensive IQ, and habit of “watching the ball” too often? While Oubre’s raw talent may be advanced enough already for a jump to the NBA, it would leave KU with a gaping hole that it hasn’t had in some time. A gaping hole at the small forward position that has been filled by players like Brandon Rush, Xavier Henry, and Marcus Morris in years past.
The level of impact Kelly Oubre had on the University of Kansas’s postseason could be labeled the same way as his regular season: up and down. Explosive 20 point games, lock-down defense, and aggressiveness on both ends of the floor were intermingled with single-digit offensive outputs, occasional foul trouble, and defensive lapses. While Oubre and his father both have stated that Oubre would not declare for the NBA draft unless they were both certain that he would make an “impact” on the next level, that level of impact may be measured within the gray area of potential that so many other underclassmen are valued on.
Kelly Oubre’s effect on the defensive end of the floor may be his strongest selling point to NBA scouts. Loaded with defensive stopper potential, Oubre instantly checks off boxes in critical areas defensively. Oubre has lateral quickness, a 7’2’’ condor-like wingspan, and tremendous athleticism which aids in his well-above-average rebounding ability at the small forward position. Oubre’s weaknesses include his defensive IQ and his habit of watching the ball too frequently. Oubre often focuses on the ball itself, leaving him susceptible to back cuts or to giving inefficient weak-side help. However, Oubre’s immense potential showed throughout the season. Oubre led KU in steals per minute, his one-on-one defense was superb, and he seemed to be able to force late-game critical turnovers as if he was on cue. Oubre is an NBA-ready defender, much like Andrew Wiggins was last year at KU.
Oubre’s defensive abilities may be where the comparisons to Andrew Wiggins have to end. Oubre possesses a wide-ranging arsenal of offensive weapons, such as his smooth 3-point stroke, spot-up jump shots, and a mixed bag of runners or floaters in the lane. However, none of his offensive weapons are consistent at this time, evidenced by his streaky field goal percentage and spotty scoring outputs. Through the first 10 games of the season, roughly 75% of his field goal attempts were spot-up jumpers from well outside of the lane. Oubre has done a remarkable job of becoming more aggressive and slashing to the lane, finishing at the rim, or dropping in floaters. However, too many of his drives still result in turnovers before he gets a shot off.
Wiggins possesses a quick release, explosive lift on his jumper, and a lethal, almost un-guardable step-back jumper. Jabari Parker fell victim to the Wiggins step-back jump shot in a last second win over Duke last season. Oubre does not have a similar critical offensive move that would make him “NBA ready” as a 15-points-per-game scorer as a rookie. His offensive contributions may be limited to mostly single-digit games early in his career.
Will he stay or will he go? Most NBA mock drafts have kept Kelly Oubre in the lottery-pick range all season, with most current projections having Oubre going late in the lottery. Some websites have him slotted as high as #9, and others have him closing out the lottery with the #14 overall selection. Depending on the lottery drawing, the Detroit Pistons may be interested in Oubre’s services, where he could replace an aging Tayshaun Prince. Similarly to Oubre, Prince is an unorthodox, long-armed scorer and talented defender. Oubre has been compared to several active NBA players, ranging from James Harden and Thaddeus Young to a young Andre Iguodala.
If scouts look a bit deeper, Oubre may channel comparisons to another one-and-done college player whose star didn’t shine quite as bright in his lone college season as it would later in his NBA career. Gerald Wallace, a high school athletic marvel, averaged just 9.8 points per game in his lone season at the University of Alabama and went on to have a very successful NBA career. Wallace’s 15 seasons in the NBA resulted in an all-star appearance with the Charlotte Bobcats in 2010, averaging more than 18 points and 10 rebounds per game. He managed to progress from a young player who barely cracked 10 points per game to a consistent double-figure scorer. Wallace was one of only three players since 1973 to average over two steals and two blocks per game for an entire season. Kelly Oubre has a Gerald Wallace-like ceiling, and that is a high ceiling to have.
Gerald Wallace made his mark in the NBA for 15 years after just one less-than-remarkable season at the University of Alabama. Kelly Oubre, the University of Kansas’s 6’7’’ highly-talented freshman, is poised to do the same. Will he stay or will he go? Look for Oubre’s impact to be on the next level this coming fall.