Kelly Oubre was acquired by the Warriors to replace Klay Thompson.
But nine games into Golden State’s campaign, coach Steve Kerr should be looking to replace Oubre in the team’s starting lineup.
The move to acquire Oubre had a price tag of $80 million for the season, prodigious luxury taxes included. It’s fair to say that the Warriors are not getting their money’s worth.
Mired in a shooting slump that goes from the 3-point line to the rim and inexorably lost on both offense and defense, Oubre has proven to be more of a liability than an asset to the Warriors, and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.
Oubre is Harrison Barnes without a conscience, a player with the uncanny ability to consistently make the wrong play with the ball in his hands and stand in the way when it’s not. And with him in the game the Warriors are playing 4-on-5.
Oubre is supposed to be improving — getting a better feel for his new teammates and the way they want to play — but Friday night was his worst game of what has been a terrible season to date. Nothing summed up his unforgettably poor performance like his inability to get out of the way of Steph Curry when on offense. Twice in the first half of the Dubs’ stunning win, Curry — as he is want to do — relocated beyond the 3-point line, only to find Oubre standing in his spot.
— Dieter Kurtenbach (@dieter) January 9, 2021
It was the best defense Oubre played all night.
Rarely will you ever see Curry chastise a teammate during a game — he usually leaves that sort of thing to Draymond Green — but the Warriors star’s frustrations with Oubre boiled over in the first quarter on Friday, after the first such relocation fiasco.
From that point on, The Chef, double and triple-teamed all game, stewed when he shared the floor with Oubre, which he did for most of the night. On the game broadcast, you could see Curry venting to Damion Lee, his brother in law, during timeouts. In the second half, Curry appeared to avoid passing the ball to Oubre, aware that it would stop with the slumping winger, who treats passes like turnovers.
It led to the entire Warriors offensive operation breaking down. And the defense, with Oubre’s lacking rotations and awareness, reached that point far earlier in the game. With 3:32 remaining in the third quarter, the Warriors subbed out Oubre, as part of his regular rotation. At that point, Golden State trailed by 20.
Oubre didn’t return to the contest. And Golden State went on a 52-22 run to win.
It wasn’t a funny coincidence.
Yes, a lot of that turnaround was Curry going thermonuclear, but how much of that Curry Flurry stemmed from his newfound lack of hinderance?
After all, it’s tough enough to have to take on three defenders. It’s overkill to also worry about running into your own teammate.
When Curry wasn’t isolating, the Warriors’ motion offense had motion. When the ball found its way to the open player, that player didn’t look down to make sure their feet were behind the 3-point line, only to shoot once he was no longer open.
There was a clear denominator between the Warriors playing poorly and playing well against a top Western Conference contender.
Oubre was brought in to be the solution — the player who would keep the Warriors’ heads above water after losing a star player to injury — but Friday proved he’s the problem for this team.
There’s no question that, at the moment, the Warriors would better with Damion Lee, Mychal Mulder, or Kent Bazemore in the starting lineup, which is about as strong of an indictment of Oubre’s play as one can levy.
The issue is that that Oubre is a talented and expensive player, where as Lee, Mulder, and Bazemore are known commodities — players signed to the NBA minimum for a reason. While those three alternatives are better options now, they’re not tenable wings for a team trying to win playoff series this spring.
But neither is Oubre.
And I’m not convinced that things will start clicking for Oubre in the days, weeks, or months to come.
Kerr gave Oubre a vote of confidence after the game, saying that he won’t change the starting lineup and that Oubre deserves a chance to work through his struggles because he is a “proven player.”
But Oubre is playing like he has always played. No one cared to notice these now glaringly apparent flaws because he played on bad teams.
Now that he’s asked to play winning basketball alongside Curry and Green, he’s lost.
He could float by on the Wizards and old-guard Suns — his athleticism making him a standout on such teams. But there were more than a few folks around the NBA who felt it prudent to point out both at the time and after the trade to Golden State that the Suns went undefeated in the bubble last year — arguably the foundation of their strong play for this season — without Oubre in the lineup.
Yes, Oubre can get up to speed with the Warriors’ offense. He can learn to get out of the way. It’s too early for Kerr, myself, or the Warriors fan base to not give him that benefit of the doubt. But I’m not expecting the shot-hunting or the lack of focus on defense will go away, even with time.
Tigers don’t change their stripes. This is the kind of tiger Oubre is.
Just in the same way that Andrew Wiggins isn’t doing anything for the Warriors he hasn’t already done in his career — he’s just being asked to do it at the right moments, in the right ways, and he’s playing well.
The issue the Warriors have is that Oubre’s role cannot change. He is not worthy of anchoring the Warriors’ second unit — one of the more successful things the Dubs have going for them at the moment — and he’s struggling in an ancillary role alongside the ultimate teammate booster, Curry.
Kerr has said that he won’t have his rotations finalized until 20 games into the season.
That’s how long Oubre has to show that he can be an asset to this team.
Otherwise, he should be sitting at the end of the bench, filling the role that Bazemore has taken — non-rotation energy guy off the bench.
And while there’s no value in being cheap, if that’s all Oubre can be for this team, then no one could fault Joe Lacob for not wanting to pay the price to keep him around.
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