When last we left our masked hero, he was, well, masked. And tired of wearing a mask. And angry about his season coming to an end in the second round of the NBA playoffs.
Compared to how his first three years in the league played out, though, none of those details seem so bad in retrospect.
Over the course of the 2017-18 season, Joel Embiid went from an injury-prone punchline to one of the game’s most dominating players. Some less serious setbacks than the ones that marred the Philadelphia center’s previous three as a professional caused him to miss 19 games, most coming at the end of the regular season. But his impact and numbers — 22.9 points per game, 11.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.8 blocks — were so great that he made the All-NBA second team in his second season of competition.
A man who couldn’t seem to stay healthy enough to actually get on the court after becoming the Sixers’ No. 3 overall draft pick in 2014 helped his team secure the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.
When considering all that Embiid accomplished in his first full season in the NBA (he only played 31 of 82 games before suffering a season-ending injury as a rookie), I keep going back to what the 7-footer said before it all played out. When Embiid and the 76ers practiced at Allen Fieldhouse in October of 2017, I asked the former University of Kansas center whether he had added anything new to his repertoire during the offseason.
“Not really,” Embiid replied. “Because I didn’t really get the chance to be on the court this summer, because I was rehabbing (the left-knee injury that ended his 2016-17 season).”
The man couldn’t even work on his game during the summer, said he felt behind in the preseason and went on to become not just an all-star, but an all-league performer. And Embiid said once he got healthy and caught up he thought the Sixers — after five consecutive losing, playoff-less seasons — could make the postseason.
So we should probably heed the Cameroonian center’s words regarding his expectations for the 2018-19 season, which tips off Tuesday night (7 p.m., TNT) with Philadelphia taking on East favorite Boston, the team that eliminated the Sixers in the second round this past spring.
Amid a healthy offseason of actually working on his game and conditioning, Embiid made it clear back in August that he’s planning on a massive campaign.
“I want to win the MVP,” he told Yahoo Sports. “I feel like at the end of the day it might be an individual award, but when I play better, the team also does. I feel like if I’m an MVP candidate or if I win the MVP, that means we are on another level.”
Embiid possesses the bravado of a professional wrestler and the size and skill to become (if healthy, a parenthetical that will continue to accompany him for some time) one of the game’s all-time great big men. You’ll want to tune in for the show every chance you get.
Other Jayhawks to watch
On the opposite end of the NBA spectrum, in Phoenix, where the likely lottery-bound Suns have an intriguing core of young talent but play in the loaded Western Conference, another former one-and-done lottery pick from KU, Josh Jackson, enters his second season with some hardware in mind, too.
And Jackson isn’t taking an outlandish route with his goal.
After averaging 13.1points and 4.6 rebounds and shooting 41.7 percent from the floor in 77 games as a rookie, Jackson, through a promotional piece for Under Armour, made public his plan to go after the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.
“I really want to win that award,” the 21-year-old Jackson said. “It would help me feel the work I put in last season and this summer paid off.”
While Suns games aren’t exactly easy to find on the league’s national TV schedule, you can keep up with Jackson’s progress over at The Undefeated, where he will work with Marc J. Spears throughout the season to provide diary entries about his life on and off the court.
“How good is he? How good is he going to be? Can he really win? I feel like this is a big year for me to answer those questions,” Jackson began in his first piece.
Though he started four games for Boston in the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals, Marcus Morris plans on making a different role work for him this season.
The Celtics’ top five players — Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown — project as one of the league’s best lineups. Morris, entering his eighth season, plans on Boston having one of the NBA’s top bench units, too.
With the old school hiphop group N.W.A. the source of his inspiration, Morris declared the Celtics’ group of reserves — himself, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Aron Baynes and others — “B.W.A.” or “bench with attitude.”
“I think we have a lot of guys that bring that fire,” Morris told The Athletic. “So I just wanted to try and have fun with it. We’ve got, to me, a couple guys on the bench who could start on other teams. And at the same time we’re still coming in with that fire. Basically, if another bench don’t come in ready we’re going to bust their ass. And that’s how we approach it.”
Morris and the Celtics are gunning for the franchise’s first NBA Finals appearance since 2010.
Because, of course he did, Marcus’ twin brother Markieff, he of the Washington Wizards, told reporters before the preseason schedule even began that Boston “has never been better than us.”
The Wizards, in Markieff’s mind, are the best team in the East.
“Raptors are going through a little bit, they changed up DeMar DeRozan,” the Wizards forward opined. “Other than that, Boston has never been better than us. Internally we don't think they were better than us last year. But we just got to play up to our ability."
The East’s No. 8 seed this past season, Washington lost to Toronto in the first round of the playoffs. We’ll have to check back in April or May to gauge Markieff’s prophesying abilities.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft and the recent recipient of a five-year, $148 million contract extension, Andrew Wiggins is viewed in most NBA circles as little more than an athletic scorer.
Those who cover Minnesota for the Star Tribune have reached a point where they’re ready to label Wiggins as a lost cause.
The Timberwolves’ best player, Jimmy Butler, demanded a trade, reportedly, in part, due to his not-so-high opinion of Wiggins and the franchise’s youngest star, Karl-Anthony Towns.
Butler might have been traded by the time you’re reading this. Or he might play out the season begrudgingly with Minnesota. Either way, Wiggins will be on the receiving end of some unwanted attention. The T’wolves are due to pay him more than $25 million this season and they — coach Tom Thibodeau in particular — would like to see more from the 23-year-old wing than the 19.7 points per game career average he brings with him into his fifth NBA season.
Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk
Sure, they play on opposite coasts for very different franchises, but for one last time it seems right to group these two former KU teammates and sidekicks together.
Both second-round picks enter their rookie season in similar situations, too. Devonte’ Graham, for now, looks like a 12th man type for Charlotte, behind all-star Kemba Walker and former Spurs great Tony Parker at point guard.
Playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, on the same team as legendary forward LeBron James no less, Svi Mykhailiuk, like Graham, likely won’t be called upon unless the bench is emptied in the game’s final minutes.
But an injury here or there could bump either of the rookies up their team’s depth chart. It will be interesting to see how they handle their opportunities when they come and to monitor how much their respective franchises utilize the G League in their development.
Kelly Oubre Jr.
Under contract only through the end of this season, Kelly Oubre Jr.’s next few months will determine how much money teams, including Washington, are interested in paying him once he becomes a restricted free agent next summer.
The 15th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Oubre is coming off easily his most productive season in the NBA, having averaged 11.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.0 steals, while shooting 34.1 percent from 3-point range — all career highs.
He already has proven to be a valuable defender as a pro. If he can somehow develop into a slightly better 3-point shooter Oubre won’t have to worry about finding a team that wants to pay him.
Frank Mason III
A beloved former national player of the year at KU, Frank Mason III just might begin his second season taking on a key role for Sacramento.
According to NBC Sports Bay Area, Kings coach Dave Joerger is considering starting Mason in the backcourt while the team is without Bogdan Bogdanovic.
“You’re going to get 110 percent from him,” Joerger said of Mason.
A hot start for Mason could inspire his coach to ask more of him on a permanent basis. Mason averaged 18.9 minutes while playing in 52 games as a rookie, producing 7.9 points, 2.8 assists and 2.5 rebounds, with 36 percent 3-point accuracy but just a 38.4 percent mark on 2-pointers as he struggled to finish inside against the length of NBA defenders.
Though Wayne Selden, in his first full season with Memphis, averaged 9.3 points per game and hit 40.2 percent of his 3-pointers, his status within the Grizzlies’ rotation, it appears, will be determined by how he plays in the weeks ahead and fits into various lineups.
As reported by the Memphis Commercial Appeal, injuries during his time with the organization have kept Selden from establishing what he could be for the Grizzlies. Selden will enter the summer of 2019 as an unrestricted free agent.
Coming into his third year with New Orleans, Cheick Diallo has yet to play more than 11.7 minutes a game. He at least appeared in 52 in 2017-18, far more than the 17 he experienced as a rookie.
Due to the Pelicans’ front court depth — Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, Nikola Mirotic, Darius Miller and even Jahlil Okafor — it’s difficult to foresee his role expanding this year.
Back with Sacramento after an uneventful stint with Memphis, Ben McLemore, at 25, doesn’t even really fit into the Kings’ youth movement.
It doesn’t seem too farfetched for him to play behind Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield, Yogi Ferrell and Iman Shumpert at shooting guard.
When the Kings traded for him this summer it was most likely for his contract, which will come off the books at the end of this season.
An undrafted rookie who never actually played at Kansas, Billy Preston likely won’t play much for Cleveland this year, either.
The 6-foot-10 forward whose name infamously popped up in the ongoing federal college basketball trial is playing on a two-way contract with the Cavs, allowing him to split time in the G League and NBA.
Suspended for Game 4 of his team’s second-round playoff game on Sunday, Washington forward Kelly Oubre Jr. had to watch from afar — at his home, with his father — while his teammates handled Boston without him.
The former Kansas wing’s Game 3 run-and-shove retaliation on pesky Celtics screener Kelly Olynyk earned him a flagrant 2 foul, an ejection and a seat next to Kelly Oubre Sr., due to the NBA’s decision to suspend him.
The 21-year-old, second-year pro told CSN Mid-Atlantic his natural inclination was to enjoy viewing what turned out to be a 121-102 Wizards blowout. Good old dad had to keep junior in line when a big play had him “going crazy.”
"He wasn't in a bad mood,” Oubre Jr. said of senior, “but he would just constantly remind me if I was joking about something, he would be like, 'It would be easier if you said that on the court.' But that's my dad. That's my dad for you. It's tough love and I love it."
The 6-foot-7 backup forward will be a much more active participant in Game 5 of the Boston-Washington series, tied 2-2, on Wednesday night. Oubre anticipates Celtics fans not being as excited about his return as he is. During Game 4, in D.C., Wizards supporters, who also relentlessly booed Olynyk, chanted Oubre’s name during one dead stretch. Wisely, he’s expecting the opposite response from fans in Boston for his return.
"If a whole stadium full of people are chanting my name, that's a blessing,” Oubre told CSN Mid-Atlantic. “I see what we did to Kelly Olynyk, so I'm not going to be surprised by anything."
"I've played in all the loudest arenas and against a lot of the best fans," Oubre added. "I just have to stay focused and lock in."
His coach, Scott Brooks, had some advice for Oubre, who scored 12 points apiece in his first two games at Boston this series:
"Oh jeez. Bring some ear plugs,” Brooks said. "They're definitely gonna let him have it."
Added Washington big man and fellow Jayhawk Markieff Morris:
"Man, I feel like we all should bring ear plugs. But if you ain't booing then you ain't doing something right, then. That's how I look at it."
As it turns out, Oubre said his time at Kansas prepared him for what awaits him in Boston.
"I went to Kansas University," he told Washington Post reporter Candace Buckner Wednesday, "so I'm used to all the booing."
Oubre identified a certain Big 12 arena in Manhattan as one place where he heard plenty of boos.
"Kansas State is the worst," he said. "They've got a whole student section that hates your guts."
In Oubre's opinion, K-State fans "want you dead."
"Shoutout to Kansas State, but rock chalk, man," he added.
Game 5 tips at 7 p.m. Wednesday, on TNT.
Kelly Oubre Jr. never has been the type of player who cares what people think about him or his game, and it doesn’t sound as if an on-court playoff altercation is about to change that.
A half-day removed from his Game 3 ejection, after he shoved Boston’s Kelly Olynyk to the floor, Oubre on Friday spoke with media in Washington, D.C., for the first time about what prompted such an outburst.
The second-year Washington forward said it wasn’t the first time Olynyk — called for an illegal screen while delivering an elbow to Oubre on the play that incited the squabble — and the former Kansas wing clashed.
“I’ve been hit in the head multiple times by the same person,” Oubre said in a video posted by The Washington Post’s Candace Buckner. “I’ve confronted him about it. But the last time it happened, I fell, I felt pain in my head and my jaw, and I got up and I ran to him and I bumped him. That’s all that happened.”
While Oubre, a key reserve for the Wizards, said that type of physical reaction with an opponent won’t happen again, because he learned his lesson and has to control himself, he also insisted that won’t change his hard-playing approach to the game.
“But I’m gonna keep raging on the court. I’m gonna keep screaming at everybody in the crowd and I’m gonna continue to do me,” Oubre said. “So nothing’s gonna change from this incident.”
Oubre, shooting 41.2% from the floor during his first NBA Playoffs, has made 10 of 25 3-pointers in the postseason and is averaging 6.3 points and 2.6 rebounds off Washington’s bench (17.4 minutes a game). After footage of his contact with Olynyk went viral on Twitter and Instagram, Oubre joked his financial adviser told him he got some inquiries from the NFL.
On a more serious note, his biggest concerns now are whether the NBA will suspend him for his actions. Oubre said he didn’t know what to expect on that front.
“Whatever the league does, they do,” he said, “but my job is to be here in Washington, and be with my team.”
Moving past the rush of fury he displayed served as the 21-year-old’s primary message during his media session.
“Whenever my head hurts or I get hit in the face, my initial reaction isn’t going to be pleasant. But I’m pretty mindful. I take my inner peace very seriously,” Oubre said. “When that happened, that’s something that’s very rare and it could only happen in a situation like that.”
Game 4 of Celtics-Wizards is 5:30 p.m. Sunday (TNT).
Second-year forward Kelly Oubre Jr. had his first big moment of the NBA Playoffs on Thursday night. But his name wasn’t on the fingertips of the NBA Twitterverse for a timely basket or steal.
The former Kansas wing, instead, grabbed everyone’s attention by trying to knock Boston’s Kelly Olynyk into next week. The altercation earned Oubre, a key reserve for Washington, a flagrant-2 foul from the officiating crew and a first-half ejection.
The 21-year-old’s outburst of court rage wasn’t completely unprompted. Oubre charged Olynyk and shoved him to the floor a moment after a hard screen — a play on which the Celtics’ big man extended an elbow into Oubre, drawing an offensive foul.
Oubre scored exactly 12 points in each of the previous two games in the series and played more than 25 minutes in both narrow D.C. losses. In Game 3 of what has been a heated and frequently chippy Eastern Conference semifinal, the Wizards easily took the victory in Oubre’s absence, though the 2015 first-round pick only played 5 minutes due to the ejection.
After Washington cut Boston’s series lead to 2-1, Wizards coach Scott Brooks addressed Oubre’s attack of Olynyk and, when asked if it was in retaliation, referenced the Celtics and Olynyk playing an overly physical style of basketball in the series.
“One, I think we’ve got to control our emotions. We can’t respond that way,” Brooks started off, in response, during his post-game press conference. “But when you get hit in the head a few times — I mean, we’re very competitive guys out there. Two teams are very competitive. You keep getting hit in the head, you might respond that way. I think that’s what he did. I’m not saying that was the right thing to do. We have to focus on playing basketball. We can’t control what they’re doing. We just have to control within our gameplan and stay focused.”
Brooks said at that point he hadn’t yet spoken with Oubre, but said he would let his player know he has to let the officials make those calls, and the referees got it right before Oubre lost his cool.
Asked about Oubre’s clash with Olynyk, Boston star Isaiah Thomas said, “I don’t know what he was doing. I mean, the screens we’ve been setting … for the most part, I feel like they’ve been legal. It’s just those guys fall and the refs call an offensive foul. I don’t know why (Oubre) reacted like that, especially to Kelly (Olynyk). Kelly’s not trying to make anybody mad — not to put anything on (Olynyk), but he’s just not like that. I guess you can pick and choose who you want to do that to.”
On NBA TV following the game, Stu Jackson, formerly the league’s vice-president of basketball operations, discussed Oubre’s flagrant-2 and automatic ejection. Jackson predicted the league offices would not suspend Oubre for Game 4 of the series, but anticipated a fine coming the second-year forward’s way.
Among the 16 former Kansas players active in the NBA during the 2016-17 regular season — henceforth known as the dawn of The Joel Embiid Era — only six get a crack at the spotlight known as The Playoffs.
For those Jayhawks fans in search of a team to follow in the postseason, look no further than the Washington Wizards.
The Eastern Conference’s No. 4 seed utilizes two former Bill Self players — starter Markieff Morris and backup Kelly Oubre Jr. — in its rotation.
Morris, a sixth-year power forward, isn’t the face of the franchise by any means — that moniker belongs to point guard John Wall. But those in the Wizards locker room will argue the 27-year-old Morris is as important as anyone this spring, as Washington tries to make a deep run in the East.
The 27-year-old former Kansas standout put up 20 points in each of his final two regular-season appearances. As detailed by CSN Mid-Atlantic, Morris’ production tied in with the team’s success throughout the year, so the Wizards expect plenty out of him as they open a first-round series with Atlanta on Sunday afternoon.
Check out Morris’ splits in D.C. wins and losses, as referenced by CSN:
Played in 45 of 49 wins. In those games, Morris shot 39.1% from 3-point range and made 48% of his shots overall.
In 31 losses he played in, Morris shot 32.1% on 3-pointers and only 42.3% overall.
“When he makes 3s, we’re a different team and I’ve told him that," first-year Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said. "I’d like him to take four to five threes if he’s there in a rhythm, he’s comfortable and his feet are set. He can make those at a 40-something percent clip. … I’m glad it’s starting to come back. He had a stretch there it wasn’t falling for him but he didn’t stop working and it’s paying off.”
Even better news for Brooks, Morris and his teammates: now that the playoffs are here, the schedule isn’t as demanding and Morris (14.0 points per game, 6.5 rebounds this season) has proven to be an efficient, productive scorer when rested. And there will be at least a two-day break between games in the playoffs.
More telling numbers from CSN:
On zero days rest (15 times), Morris shot 41.8% overall and 31.6% from 3.
On one day of rest (42 times), Morris shot 43.8% overall and 32.3% from 3.
On two days of rest (11 times), Morris shot 52.2% overall and 46.7% from 3.
On three days of rest (five times), Morris shot 56.9% overall and 50% from three.
As for Oubre, a key sub and perimeter defender — the 6-7 wing closed the last couple weeks of his second season averaging 10.7 points and 4.5 rebounds in April (though he only made 38.6% of his field goals and 25% of his 3-pointers).
The up-and-coming 21-year-old recently received a glowing review from one of the league’s elite players, Golden State’s Kevin Durant:
“Some of these young cats that come into the league, they got super confidence, uber-confidence, and they just go through the motions, where they’re just too cool, you know what I’m saying? But he had a little — he had some dog in him,” Durant said of Oubre while speaking on The Bill Simmons Podcast. “He might foul you hard. That’s how I know, actually, if young guys they really want it. They’ll foul you hard and play physical. I was playing with him and he’d foul me hard, and I’m like, ‘I like that. I like that you care.’ Because a lot of these cats don’t care about the game.”
Other KU players to watch
Wayne Selden Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
He’s by far the least experienced NBA player on their roster, but the seventh-seeded Memphis Grizzlies might actually need the youthful legs of Wayne Selden Jr., versus West power San Antonio — in a best-of-seven series that begins Saturday.
First-year head coach David Fizdale recently explained Selden’s worth to The Commercial Appeal.
“He can play. I wasn’t giving out charity minutes. He was balling,” Fizdale said. “The kid is built for the league. He’s got a great two guard’s body. He reminds me a lot of Dwyane Wade from a body standpoint (with) big shoulders. And he knows how to play. He’s got an IQ about him. We’re just going to work hard to develop him and see where it takes us, but I really like what I’m seeing so far.”
After going un-drafted and making his NBA debut with New Orleans, Selden caught on with Memphis late in the season and has played in all of 11 games for the Grizzlies.
Though he likely won’t play as much in the postseason — unless all the games are out of reach — Selden averaged 27.5 minutes in the Grizzlies’ final six games, averaging 8.2 points, 2.0 assists and shooting 42.9% from the floor.
The rest of the Jayhawks
Only a handful of games remain in Paul Pierce’s storied career, so get a glimpse of him while you can in his brief reserve minutes, as the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers face Utah, beginning Saturday night.
Nick Collison barely plays any more for the sixth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, but at least you can see his reactions as MVP candidates Russell Westbrook and James Harden square off. Houston vs. OKC tips off Sunday night. Who knows, the offseason could mark the end of Collison’s 13-year career, as well. Here’s what he said on the mater to The Oklahoman:
“I don’t know, we’ll see,” Collison said of his future. “All season long, I’ve said I’m gonna wait until the season’s over and figure that stuff out, so I’m holding to that; the season’s not over yet.”
- Playing behind one of the league’s top defensive players, center Rudy Gobert, Jeff Withey doesn’t get a lot of run with fifth-seeded Utah. The 7-foot shot-blocker who starred at Kansas averaged 2.9 points and 2.4 boards in 8.5 minutes in his fourth NBA season. Look for him in spurts against the Clippers and Pierce, in a series that could go seven games.
Little stood out about Kelly Oubre Jr.’s first year in the NBA. The first-round pick out of Kansas played sparingly for a middling team that missed the playoffs, despite much loftier expectations.
Rookie seasons are made to deliver hard lessons, though. Now Oubre has transformed himself into a much more reliable member of the Washington Wizards and has played a key part in the team’s climb toward the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
A year ago, Oubre revealed recently in an interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast, he just felt happy to be in the league. The 21-year-old now finds himself in a situation, under first-year Wizards head coach Scott Brooks, where he has peace of mind and confidence, because he knows his performance is important to the Washington’s success.
The 6-foot-7 forward comes off the bench for the Wizards, and only averages 19.5 minutes and 5.9 points on the season. But Brooks needs Oubre’s defense, and the second-year wing often guards the opponent’s best wing — think: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, etc. But the athletic sub also has shown a capacity to help star D.C. guards John Wall and Bradley Beal out by defending smaller guards, such as Boston’s Isaiah Thomas.
“I think that’s something different that these teams aren’t used to,” Oubre said on Wizards Tipoff. “Just a 6-7 long defender coming out and guarding point guards, especially of the smaller caliber. It’s fun to me, man. It’s a challenge. Obviously these guys are great. These guys are good at what they do. And going out there and competing and trying to hold them from their average is something that I take pride in, man. I don’t want anybody to come in and let their best player just torch us.”
“And it’s fun to guard the other team’s best player,” Oubre added. “If it’s a point guard, if it’s s shooting guard, small forward, power forward — no matter what I want to guard him. My teammates give me that confidence to pretty much go out and guard anybody.”
Self-assured in all he does, even Oubre had to get a boost to his boldness last week upon scoring 16 points on 7-for-8 shooting, with 7 rebounds and a steal in 26 minutes off the bench at Cleveland — a game Washington (46-29) won on the home floor of the NBA’s defending champions.
Oubre didn’t hesitate to call it his best game of the season.
“Defensively, offensively everything clicking and my teammates playing well all around,” Oubre said. “And just the energy that I brought that game I felt was like something that was one of the best games I’ve put together all around.”
As recently as a few weeks ago, this new-and-improved version of Oubre disappeared momentarily. In four games in early March, he played single-digit minutes and didn’t play at all on another occasion. Oubre said he realized then he just had to become more consistent in everything he did.
“I know my niche. I know what I need to do,” he said, “so I think I’m just growing and learning as a person and then Coach Brooks is doing a great job of molding me into the player I know I can become.”
Now a key backup for the No. 3 team in the East, Oubre has made a name for himself in NBA circles and wants to prove he is as an “ultimate professional.” It’s an approach he admits now he didn’t take in what he considers his worst game of the season, at Brooklyn in early February. Oubre started for fellow Jayhawk Markieff Morris that day, went scoreless in 33 minutes and “wasn’t a factor at all.” It’s a showing he won’t soon forget because it disappointed him greatly.
“That ---- won’t happen again,” Oubre said, calling it another lesson as he works toward becoming a more complete player.
The second-year pro feels fortunate Brooks has shown patience with him and allowed Oubre to learn and develop. In that same Cleveland game when he looked so good he also gambled defensively a couple of times and gave up 3-pointers to sharpshooter Kyle Korver.
“It’s just lesson learned,” Oubre said of such occasions. “I know it won’t happen again. Once I make one mistake I try not to let it happen twice. If I do let it happen twice, it won’t happen again for a fact.”
As a rookie, playing for a different coaching staff, Oubre didn’t get to experience the postseason. This spring, he and the Wizards are in position to host at least one round of the playoffs. After an awful 3-9 start to the year, Washington is surging (currently two games behind the Cavaliers and Boston for the No. 1 seed).
“The vibe is different. We want it all. We want everything people said we couldn’t have,” said Oubre, who has scored in double figures three straight games. “And we’re a team that’s not really gonna talk about it too much. We’re a team that’s gonna go out, put the work in and we’re gonna do it.”
— Listen to the entire podcast below.
Kelly Oubre Jr. doesn’t need any fans in the Dallas area, and apparently on his recent road trip with the Washington Wizards to the metroplex Oubre actually created some haters.
Oubre interrupted a noon pickup game at a YMCA, enraging the locals who had taken time out of their day to get a run in. One bystander peeved to see an NBA player getting in the way of some scheduled hoopage happened to be a writer named Tim Rogers, who detailed the encounter in a blog post for DMagazine.com.
According to the eyewitness, Oubre shot (with a trainer/rebounder in tow) at one end of an open full court while a group of 10 other men — and even some onlookers — began shouting at him to get out of the way so they could start their game.
Here’s a pretty amazing excerpt from D Magazine:
Someone went to get management to resolve the situation. We all waited on our end of the court, cursing Kelly Oubre. Management came and went. Kelly Oubre kept shooting.
We determined that Kelly Oubre would get the hell out of the way if we just started our game. And that we did. I was on defense and grabbed the first rebound, took the ball up the court, running the wing, passed it to my left as we crossed mid court. Now we had 10 guys running toward Kelly Oubre and his trainer, and what does Kelly Oubre do? He keeps shooting. Doesn’t budge.
As you might imagine, the game ground to a halt. Ten guys milling about, cursing.
If you’ve ever played pickup basketball, this all sounds infuriating. The writer did add, though, that Oubre was “quite polite” in spite of the court full of people hating his guts. And the former Kansas player and his trainer stopped at the front desk to apologize after they left.
The incident, though, generated enough buzz — at least among those who follow the Washington Wizards — that Oubre was asked to address it following his team’s 113-105 loss at Dallas Tuesday night.
The Washington Post’s Candace Buckner reported the 21-year-old backup small forward went to the downtown YMCA in Dallas with his trainer, Drew Hanlen, who had set up the session and was given permission by a manager to occupy one basket at the gymnasium.
Reporters asked Oubre if the situation and the following attention that came with it surprised him.
“Nah, it’s just a funny story for me,” Oubre told The Post. “But we’re always working, no matter where it is. No matter what the situation is, we’re going to find somewhere to work out even if people are trying to chew our heads off at the YMCA for interrupting their game. It’s like 40-year-old men but I respect it, though. We’re trying to get better, too, as well as they are. I’m happy that [Hanlen] came down to Dallas.”
Oubre scored eight points off 3-for-5 shooting (2-for-4 on 3-pointers) that night against the Mavericks, and chipped in three rebounds and two assists for Washington, which fell to 16-18 on the season.
On the year, while appearing in 32 games, the 21-year-old is averaging 5.7 points and 3.6 rebounds in 18.8 minutes. Oubre is shooting 41.3% from the floor during his second season and has connected on just 20 of 71 3-pointers (28.2%).
This year, Oubre has produced seven double-digit scoring outings, the last coming Dec. 14, when he had 15 points in 40 minutes versus Charlotte — a game that happened to be his only start to date under first-year Wizards coach Scott Brooks.
Athletes certainly have done far worse things to turn off fans, so perhaps it’s appropriate the episode didn’t seem to faze Oubre. He obviously has plenty to work on if he wants to make his NBA career last. Evidently if he has to incense a gym full of strangers to make that happen it’s fine with him.
As the 82-game, nearly six-month-long marathon known as the NBA regular season begins this week, the league’s 30 team rosters feature 15 players from the University of Kansas.
In order to get KU basketball fans up to speed on what they should expect from the Jayhawks representing their beloved program at the highest level, we decided to rank KU’s current pros, counting down from No. 15 to No. 1, in terms of which players will be the most interesting to follow in the months to come.
We now move to Nos. 10-6. A couple of these former Kansas stars are entering the primes of their career and poised to make real impacts as key reserves.
Another’s days in The Association are numbered, one is attempting to finally establish himself and the other is just getting his feet wet in the NBA.
No. 10: Tarik Black — Los Angeles Lakers
After he went undrafted in 2014, who would have thought Tarik Black would be in the league two years later, let alone playing a crucial reserve role for one of the most recognizable franchises on the planet?
True, this is not the Showtime Lakers of the glory 1980s nor the Shaq and Kobe Lakers of 15 years ago. At best, L.A. is a young team building toward what it hopes can become another era of title chases. Those days, if they return, are years away. For now Black will try and be a building block for the future, along with young recent lottery picks such as D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram.
If you watched the 6-foot-9 center play at KU, you know his game: utilize that bulk in the paint to defend and rebound, work hard, finish strong. Those characteristics already have turned Black into a bit of a fan favorite and secured him a guaranteed contract for this season.
Black apparently wasn’t valued by former Lakers coach Byron Scott, who only played him 12.7 minutes a game last year, but Black seems to be in a better situation with Luke Walton taking over, and he’ll back up L.A.’s starting center, Timofey Mozgov.
No. 9: Paul Pierce — Los Angeles Clippers
This is it for Paul Pierce. His 19th NBA season will be his last. And, realistically, at 39 years old, there is only so much the former perennial all-star’s legs will allow him to do on the basketball court at this point.
We won’t see “The Truth” take over fourth quarters like he so often did for Boston in his 15 seasons with the Celtics. Last year with the Clippers, Pierce only played 18.1 minutes a game and scored 6.1 points — both by far career lows. Though a future hall of famer, Pierce has reached a point where the Clippers are better off playing guys such as Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and, at times, Wesley Johnson at small forward in their otherwise superb starting lineup.
The intrigue in watching Pierce play this season comes from knowing it’s his last. What does he have left in that tank? Will he play better this year than last, knowing he can give it all and spend the rest of his life resting?
You know he’s going to have a night or two when he catches fire and looks like vintage Pierce for a stretch, and that will be fun to see, as will the tributes he gets from various organizations as he plays in visiting arenas for the final time.
Here’s one date you’ll want to mark on your calendar for the Clippers: Sunday, Feb. 5. It will be the final time Pierce plays in front of a Boston crowd that adores the 2008 NBA Finals MVP.
No. 8: Cole Aldrich — Minnesota Timberwolves
Last season, while playing with Pierce in L.A., Cole Aldrich established himself as a valuable reserve center in the NBA. Even while playing only 13.3 minutes a game, the burly 6-foot-11 Aldrich routinely made a positive impact in the paint as a rebounder and rim protector and averaged 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds, while converting 59.6% of his shot attempts.
Aldrich’s best pro season to date came at an ideal time, too, with the big man hitting the free agent market this past summer. He signed with his hometown Timberwolves, one of the league’s up-and-coming franchises for three years and $22 million.
Now 27 years old, Aldrich gets to take his enforcer role to Minnesota’s second unit. When the team’s young star Karl-Anthony Towns or Gorgui Dieng aren’t in the game to control the paint, it will be up to Aldrich to make sure the T’wolves’ interior defense doesn’t experience much of a drop-off.
Minnesota is expected to become one of the more exciting teams in the league to follow, and for KU fans, there is no better bandwagon to hop onto, with Aldrich teaming up with fellow Jayhawks Brandon Rush and Andrew Wiggins.
No. 7: Thomas Robinson — Los Angeles Lakers
We don’t know how much — or how little — former KU star Thomas Robinson will play during his first season with the Lakers. Honestly, it seems another Jayahwk on this list, Black, will feature far more prominently in L.A.’s plans.
Robinson, playing on a one-year, non-guaranteed contract, didn’t even know during the preseason whether he’d make the team’s roster. So he has a long way to go before breaking into the rotation. The months ahead seem intriguing for Robinson, though, because this is his sixth team in five seasons. Organization after organization has passed on retaining the backup power forward. Will the Lakers do the same? Will they even keep him around for the entire season?
The answers to those questions have a lot to do with how the 6-foot-10, 25-year-old Robinson approaches his place in the roster hierarchy. The Lakers have far more invested in bigs Julius Randle, Mozgov, Larry Nance Jr. and Black than Robinson. He’ll have to prove himself more deserving of playing time than one or two of his frontcourt teammates to feature prominently on this young team building for the future.
It might take an injury to one of those other post players for Robinson to get a long look from Walton and his staff. How will Robinson respond when his chance comes? That’s what will be compelling to observe. He has yet to live up to his position as a lottery pick — will this be the year he finally does?
No. 6: Kelly Oubre Jr. — Washington Wizards
A year ago, appropriately, Kelly Oubre Jr. looked like a 20-year-old rookie not quite skilled enough to make a sustainable impact on an NBA floor.
Now in his second season with Washington, Oubre, who will turn 21 in December, is starting to fit in much better. Whether that’s the result of learning from his first-year struggles, the Wizards hiring a new head coach in Scott Brooks or a combination of the two, look for the 6-foot-7 lefty’s production to spike upward in Year 2.
Say goodbye to the days of Oubre playing only 10 minutes and averaging 3.7 points. Though still playing a reserve role, behind Otto Porter Jr., Oubre looked better suited to contribute during the preseason. He played 25.5 minutes a game for D.C. this past month in exhibitions, and scored 13.1 points while making 49.2% of his field goals.
To take the next step in his career, Oubre will have to develop a better 3-point shot. He only made 25 of 79 last season (31.6%). During the preseason, it didn’t appear a drastic improvement is coming in the months ahead, as Oubre shot 6-for-17 (35.3%) from downtown.
Still, it seems Washington is far more interested in utilizing Oubre's growing skill set now than when he was a rookie.
Kelly Oubre Jr. didn’t have the most exciting or memorable rookie season. But now that the NBA Summer League has arrived, the former Kansas wing can try to put that behind him and establish a new tone for Year No. 2.
Washington’s 6-foot-7 small forward went for 20 points, 8 rebounds and 4 steals in his Las Vegas debut Saturday, against Utah. The following day, Oubre posted 21 points, 2 assists and 2 steals versus Atlanta.
Shortly after Oubre’s first exhibition, he told CSN Mid-Atlantic why everything felt a lot easier for him this year, in his second trip to the Vegas summer league.
“Now I know what my defined role is, or can be, on this basketball team,” Oubre said. “I’m just trying to do that and perfect that. I’m just out here playing as hard as I can, trying to get wins. That’s the best I can do.”
Still just 20 years old, Oubre (3.7 points in 10.7 minutes during his first full season) appears to be a long way from molding himself into a valuable NBA shooter. So far this summer, he has attempted 15 3-pointers for the Wizards and connected on only 3 (20%). While appearing in 63 regular-season games as a rookie, Oubre made 25 of 79 long-range tries (31.6%).
But there are other ways to ensure yourself regular minutes, and, as Oubre told The Washington Post recently, this offseason he is treating personal defensive improvement as a necessity.
“I’m an energetic player,” Oubre said. “I come in and I try to first and foremost start on the defensive end because that’s what God blessed me with, length and athletic ability, so I feel that’s kind of my calling card, coming out and trying to get stops.”
Oubre showed off his 7-foot-2 wingspan in his first summer action, playing harassing defense that led to deflections and his 4 steals against the Jazz.
“Defense is the key to winning championships, to our offense, to everything,” Oubre told CSN Mid-Atlantic after that showing. “So if I can bring that, and bring that heart and bring that dog onto the court, then we’re gonna be successful.”
Oubre (as pointed out by The Post) is the only player on Washington’s July squad who has a roster spot for the 2016-17 season. Unlike some other former KU players participating in Las Vegas, such as undrafted rookies Perry Ellis (Dallas) and Brannen Greene (Memphis), Oubre is playing as an established commodity for his team. The 15th overall pick in the 2015 draft, the Wizards want him to squeeze as much development as humanly possible out of these summer outings.
Washington’s summer coach, Sidney Lowe, told CSN Mid-Atlantic after Oubre’s strong start in the opener he likes the way the second-year wing is approaching the game.
“He made a couple of big shots for us, but I thought his defense was outstanding,” Lowe said. “That's what he can do. He's long, he's athletic, he was able to get in the passing lanes and it generated some fast breaks for us."
Oubre and the Wizards play again Tuesday afternoon against Brooklyn.
No rookie enters the NBA expecting to spend most of his initial season watching from the bench. Still, that’s the reality of the league — even for many first-round picks.
Such was the case for one-and-done Kansas wing Kelly Oubre Jr., whose first go-round in The Association came to a close Wednesday.
Oubre’s name won’t appear on any All-Rookie team ballots — not after playing just 10.7 minutes a game in 63 appearances for Washington, which, despite postseason expectations finished 41-41, three games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Oubre started five games in December, with injuries forcing then-coach Randy Wittman to start the 6-foot-7 rookie.
At the time, Oubre told The Washington Post’s Jorge Castillo, he thought more would come in the months ahead.
“I was feeling like, ‘I’ve showed I can be in this rotation,’ ” Oubre said. “I can hold my own, so we’ll see what happens next. . . . I was like, I should be able to crack the rotation and be able to play and sustain the whole year.”
However, he only started four more times — going scoreless in the final two such occasions in late January.
The Wizards, according to The Post, had no plan to heavily involve Oubre in the rotation for 2015-16. Castillo reported Oubre would have spent time in the D-League if Washington’s injury issues hadn’t required the organization to keep him on the roster.
With the Wizards unexpectedly out of the playoff picture the final week of the regular season (leading to Wittman’s firing Thursday), Oubre played 20-plus minutes for the first time in nearly three months (a stretch that included 12 DNP’s).
The 20-year-old responded to his suddenly increased role Monday by scoring 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting on the road against Brooklyn, which finished with the third-worst record in the NBA (21-61).
“You saw how I swagged it out a little bit?” Oubre asked afterward, referring to his buzzer-beating 3-pointer to close the first half.
Two days later, in Washington’s finale, Oubre scored 6 points on 3-for-8 shooting in 25 minutes off the bench.
On the season, Oubre shot 42.7% from the floor, 31.6% from 3-point range, 63.3% at the free-throw line, and averaged 3.7 points and 2.1 rebounds.
Always confident, and oozing good vibes (as evidenced by his “Wave Papi” social media pseudonym), Oubre, the 15th pick in the 2015 draft, thought he had a solid first campaign.
“I got a chance to play. I showed everybody in the league that I’m not a bust,” Oubre told The Post. “I’m ready. I can play in this league. No matter how many minutes I’ve totaled up the whole year, I got a chance to show everybody that I can play in this league and I can help a team win.”
Individual success is all relative in the NBA. And at least one of Oubre’s teammates, guard Garrett Temple, described to The Post what stood out about the young wing.
“Just his willingness to learn as a draft pick that high that hasn’t been able to play as much,” Temple said. “He was in and out of the lineup, but he was always professional. Getting his work in every day, looking up to guys, asking questions. Being a sponge. It was a successful season in that regard.”
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