The Warriors’ move to acquire Kelly 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.
Nine games into the season, coach Steve Kerr should be looking to replace Oubre in the team’s starting lineup.
Mired in a shooting slump that goes from the 3-point line to the rim and deeply lost on both offense and defense, Oubre has proven to be more of a liability than an asset, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
The Warriors traded for Oubre — they sent two draft picks including a conditional first-rounder to Oklahoma City — to help offset the loss of Klay Thompson. Nobody expected him to be Klay Thompson.
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. 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 as well as his inability to get out of Steph Curry’s way on offense. Twice in the first half of the Dubs’ stunning win, Curry — as he is wont to do — relocated beyond the 3-point line, only to find Oubre standing in his spot.
It was the best defense Oubre played all night.
Rarely will you see Curry chastise a teammate during a game. He usually leaves that sort of thing to Draymond Green. But Curry’s frustrations with Oubre boiled over in the first quarter Friday, after the first such relocation fiasco.
From that point on, Curry, 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 to Oubre, aware that the ball would stop with the slumping winger.
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 points.
Oubre didn’t return to the game, 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 shedding the albatross of Oubre? It’s tough enough to shake three defenders. You don’t need a teammate serving as a fourth.
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 Thompson. Friday proved he’s the problem for this team.
There’s no question that, at the moment, the Warriors would do better with Lee, Mychal Mulder, or Kent Bazemore in the starting lineup. That’s about as strong an indictment of Oubre’s play as one can levy.
The issue is that that Oubre is a talented and expensive player, whereas 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 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 made him a standout on those teams. But there were more than a few NBA people who pointed out 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, me, 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.
Oubre’s role can’t change either. 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 would give Oubre 11 games, starting Sunday night, to show that he can be an asset.
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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