There are many cliches a professional athlete might use to explain a breakthrough performance. Stories of putting up extra shots in the gym or heeding a pep talk at halftime have poured out of the mouths of several Washington Wizards players this season. On Sunday night, Kelly Oubre Jr. shared a very original backstory while justifying his display of spark and skill in the Wizards’ affirming 109-94 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
“My energy never really goes away, but I was watching ‘Knightfall’ earlier today and it’s a great show on History Channel. You should check it out,” Oubre said. “It’s about Jesus and everything, but I think God gave me the energy to pretty much just go out there, stay ready and stay locked in to help us get this win.”
The TV series is about the Knights Templar, a Roman Catholic military order in medieval Europe. Oubre’s television takeaways notwithstanding, he exhibited much of his distinctive character through his invigorating play against the Sixers (31 minutes of sound defense and three-point shooting) and the even more entertaining reasons behind it. Games like Sunday’s show how the Wizards (35-25) are better when Oubre and his personality come to play.
“We let Kelly be Kelly. He brings a lot of energy, a little ‘Wave Papi’ to the floor,” said Bradley Beal, referring to Oubre’s social media nickname. “We feed off of that. I always tell him: Stay in the game, no matter what’s going on. You control your emotions, you control how you play, the intensity that you bring. He’s gotten a lot better at that. He’s shooting the ball well, playing well offensively, and defensively he’s one of our best defenders, if not the best. So whenever he’s active and in the game, we like our chances.”
Numbers back up Oubre’s impact as a reserve. The Wizards are 24-17 this season when Oubre scores in double figures — even better than the times when Beal reaches 20-plus points (24-19) or when John Wall scores at least 20 (11-7). Against Philadelphia, Oubre scored 19 points (4 of 7 from beyond the three-point arc), but even more importantly, he was entrusted to play as a sixth starter after power forward Markieff Morris got into early foul trouble.
The Wizards stuck with Oubre because he is as flexible as anyone on the roster — capable of filling in his normal rotation with the second unit as well as remaining on the court to form an athletic and long lineup when the starters go without a true center.
By halftime, Oubre had logged 19:29 on court, more than any player on both teams, as the Wizards outmatched the Sixers by 18 points when he played. Oubre hit his four three-pointers during this stretch, which included a pair of spot-up looks in the second quarter that boosted Washington to a nine-point lead each time.
“We need three-point shooters on the floor and we have them,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “Kelly’s last couple of days, or games, he’s been able to make his threes, which is good.”
Since returning from the all-star break, Oubre has made 8 of 17 three-point attempts. In the seven games before the break, Oubre had shot just 19.4 percent from beyond the arc.
“It’s been a three-year process for my jumper,” Oubre said. “First, I started with the lower body. Then I went to the upper body, so now it’s just tweaking the mechanics and knowing my teaching points and just trusting it. Confidence and consistency, they all go hand in hand, so if you trust it then everything else will be good.”
When he wasn’t draining jumpers on the Sixers, Oubre was disrupting their offense. Oubre blocked forward Robert Covington’s attempt from beyond the arc. He swatted forward Dario Saric at the rim. He also drew an offensive foul against rookie of the year candidate Ben Simmons.
“It’s great, man. Every time I go against a great competitor, I like to not look stupid,” Oubre said. “So, playing against [Simmons] is always a great experience just because he’s a lefty. He’s strong and physical … it’s definitely a great challenge every time I play against a guy like that who can handle the ball and get to where he wants to get to.”
Oubre wasn’t just fired up to play against Simmons; he treated every matchup like he had a point to prove. Late in the first half, Oubre had held Sixers shooters to a 1-for-6 mark while playing as the primary defender, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
“He’s just stepping up big for us,” Otto Porter Jr. said. “He’s letting out his shot. He’s being aggressive offensively and defensively. That’s what K.O. does. We need him every night to do that.”