After pulling on his warmups, lacing up his sneakers and walking out of the tunnel, Kelly Oubre Jr. will take a seat on the sideline, lock his gaze on the lines of the court and channel his inner “chi.”
This is how Oubre, in the throes of an inconsistent season, tunes out the noise and stays present. As the chatter around him raises after each disappointing shooting performance, it’s this steadiness that teammates, including Stephen Curry, admire.
“The one thing he can control is his energy and effort, and that’s always present when he’s out there on the floor,” Curry said after Oubre scored a career-high 40 points to help lead the injury-depleted Warriors to a 147-116 road win over the Mavericks on Thursday.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for a guy like that.”
Twenty-two games into the season, Oubre has struggled to find consistency, vacillating from supposed breakout performances to dramatic slumps. Needing to string together wins to establish themselves as a playoff team, the Warriors hope Oubre’s career night is a sign of things to come.
On a night when the Warriors were without any healthy centers and their tallest player stood 6-foot-7, Oubre picked his spots, drove to the rim and canned open 3-pointers. His 22 points in the first half tied a career high. When he made his last of seven 3-pointers in the game from the top of the key with five minutes remaining, he held the shooting form of his outstretched left arm and took in the moment.
Oubre sets a new career-high with 40 points 👏👏👏 pic.twitter.com/Dmp6tLvEyp
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) February 5, 2021
Since trading for Oubre to replace Klay Thompson, who suffered a season-ending Achilles tear in November, the Warriors have patiently waited for him to find his way. He missed his first 18 3-pointers of the season, struggled to fit alongside Curry in the offense and is posting career-low shooting percentages.
Apparent breakout performances, such as his 20-point, nine-rebound gem against the Timberwolves last week, were followed by letdowns, such as his 1-for-11 outing a night later in Phoenix. Still, teammates praised Oubre for his relentless effort and Warriors head coach Steve Kerr kept Oubre in the starting lineup despite calls from fans to have him benched.
“I think this has been coming,” Kerr said. “Obviously, for Kelly, it’s been a rough first quarter of the season. And yet, within that span, he’s had some excellent games for us. He’s played very well at times, he’s just had some really poor shooting nights during that span that people have locked in on.
“But Kelly is getting more comfortable.”
The Warriors hope that’s true.
It was in 2016, as a second-year forward with the Wizards, that Oubre began his meditation practice. As he fought for minutes on a playoff team, he struggled to understand his place in the NBA. “But once I got a consistent flow of minutes and was able to compete at a high level,” he said, “I recognized that (meditation) was something very important for me.”
In his previous five seasons, that practice helped Oubre remain even-keeled despite his streaky shooting splits. The difference between this season, when he entered Thursday night shooting just 37.6%, and seasons past, when he shot 43.1%, is his decisiveness. Oubre has never been a great playmaker, but he’s always been quick to attack closeouts, shoot the open jumper or move the ball along.
But as he’s adjusted to playing alongside Curry — whose constant motion gives teammates another thing to think about — Oubre became hesitant. Should he screen for Curry? Pass to Draymond Green or James Wiseman in the post? Force his own shot?
Because of his early indecisiveness, Oubre often ended up in the way of the Warriors’ best player.
With Wiseman (left wrist sprain), Kevon Looney (left ankle sprain) and Eric Paschall (right knee soreness) sidelined against the Mavericks, Golden State was forced to play small and at a breakneck pace. This was more conducive to Oubre’s strengths.
Here, Oubre moves the ball, sets the screen and springs Curry open for a 3-pointer.
Steph showin’ out early 💦 pic.twitter.com/5BCM9hi7ZC
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) February 5, 2021
“The pace definitely helped,” Oubre said after practice Friday. “There was not much room for error, not much time to think.”
To try to manufacture this more regularly, Kerr last month moved Oubre into Andrew Wiggins’ old spot in the bench unit that starts second and fourth quarters. Alongside Paschall and three guards, the idea was to let Oubre play fast and in space. Although Oubre’s played better since the change, the team has yet to blot out the problems with the starting lineup.
Prior to Thursday, the Warriors were outscored by seven points per 100 possessions when Curry and Oubre shared the court. Meanwhile, the Warriors with Curry, and without Oubre, were outscoring opponents by 16.2 points per 100 possessions.
In an encouraging sign for Golden State, it outscored Dallas by 12 points in the 21 minutes Curry and Oubre played together.
On Saturday, the Warriors will play their second game in Dallas in three days. In all likelihood, Oubre won’t erupt for another 40, but the Warriors will be looking for the decisiveness and confidence to carry over. Before tip-off, Oubre will pull on his warmups, lace up his sneakers and channel that energy.
“It’s very helpful for me,” he said, “to just continue to stay focused.”
Contributed by local news sources