During the Washington Wizards’ season opener, Kelly Oubre Jr. filled in with the starters after Jason Smith left the game because of a sprained right shoulder, and he might remain with the group Friday night when the Wizards face the Detroit Pistons.
“There’s definitely a possibility. It’s really not making that decision on last night. He played great,” Coach Scott Brooks said of starting Oubre, who sparked the top unit with his three-point shooting and defense in the 120-115 win over the Philadelphia 76ers. “I’m going to make that decision [Friday] on how it could help us win the next game… Kelly definitely has a chance to start.”
On Wednesday night, Smith, the 7-foot big man who replaced Markieff Morris in the starting lineup, suffered his injury on one of the first defensive plays of the game while attempting to stop Joel Embiid at the rim. The next day, Smith’s MRI revealed no structural damage, but he missed practice in order to receive treatment. Though Smith’s injury limits the Wizards’ depth at the power forward position, Oubre offers a tempting alternative to play and stay small.
During the opener, the four regular starters plus Oubre played 17 minutes and showed balance on both ends of the court. Though the 6-11 Marcin Gortat was the only legitimately big player, this unit collected 18 rebounds and three blocks, according to NBA.com. On the offensive end, the shooting was inaccurate (14 of 32 for 43.8 percent), but in this 17-minute stint, players drew 15 fouls and attempted 22 of the team’s 38 total free throws.
Oubre factored significantly into the unit’s success by grabbing eight rebounds, including a perfectly-timed putback slam in the fourth quarter.
“I look at rebounding as a stat that Kelly can really be consistent with,” Brooks said. “He has the size, the strength, the length, athleticism and the toughness to get in there and get the rebounds. I think you should be able to see [eight] every night.”
Beyond Oubre’s play around the rim, he led the team by making 3 of 6 three-point attempts. Also, Oubre’s 10 shots mixed well within a starting five that already has primary offensive weapons. Following the game, Gortat alluded to Oubre’s willingness to fit into the unit, which means he would have to accept a supporting role at times.
“Kelly’s Kelly. Sometimes he’s a hothead. We love what he do, he’s just got to understand: With the starters, you got to play a little bit of a different way than the second unit. But he’s doing a tremendous job,” Gortat said. “We love what he’s doing, and [his] right hand improved. He already had like four layups this year – in a practice!”
As the only rotational wing player who has a season under Brooks, Oubre has more freedom when playing with the second unit. However, until the Wizards return to full strength with its front court, the starters may need to make room for Oubre.
“It is a blessing because it always did not used to be like that,” Oubre said. “I have definitely worked for that and I am going to continue to work to be the best player that I can be to pretty much not have any boundaries on me, but I just want to be the player that makes the right decisions not the forced ones so I am just definitely growing and getting better over time.”
Morris participates in non-contact practice
On Thursday, Markieff Morris showed more improvement after his abdominal surgery by practicing with teammates.
As a team, the Wizards did not go through contact, allowing Morris to another small step in his recovery. Morris underwent the surgery on Sept. 22 and was expected to miss six to eight weeks from that time.
“He looked good,” Brooks said of Morris’s performance on Thursday. “He’s getting better day by day. I don’t know when he’s going to come back but I know he’s going to come back soon to practice.”
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