Saturday, June 27, 2015
Washington Basketball fans are enamored with the idea of native son Kevin Durant playing for the Washington Wizards starting in 2016. Starting this fall, Kelly Oubre Jr. begins his rookie campaign in Washington as a draft-day trade landed the Kansas product with the Wizards.
The young forward has a relationship with the Oklahoma City Thunder star. Durant posted a photo on his Instagram account of him playing basketball against Oubre two days before the draft.
The 15th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft arrived Friday for an introductory press conference. Speaking with a small group of reporters afterward, the 19-year-old Oubre was asked about the Durant connection.
“We’re competitors,” he said. “I’m not enamored with who he is. That’s Kevin Durant, but I’m Kelly Oubre.”
The Wizards hope the athletic 6-foot-7 wing, who spent one season with the Jayhawks, provides the roster with intangibles it otherwise lacks.
“We don’t have this type of player on our roster, someone who really moves up and down the floor, gives you a lot of versatility,” said team president Ernie Grunfeld, who also noted Oubre’s ability to guard multiple positions.
The Wizards made a move up four spots to select the long-limbed forward. Washington selected Notre Dame point guard Jerian Grant at No. 19 and sent his rights to the Atlanta Hawks, along with second round picks in 2016 and 2019.
Grunfeld said the opportunity for a trade up only occurred a day before Thursday night’s draft.
“We didn’t really think leading into the draft we’d have an opportunity to pick a guy like him,” coach Randy Wittman said.
Washington went 46-36 this season, the franchise’s most victories since 1978-79, then swept the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs before losing to the Hawks in six games.
How much Oubre plays next season will be determined in part based on he handles his latest transition.
As a fourth-grader, Oubre and his father moved from New Orleans to Houston because of Hurricane Katrina.
The initial move from Nevada’s Findlay Prep to the Jayhawks of Kansas started out rocky. Despite entering as one of the nation’s elite recruits, Oubre initially received scant minutes. Kansas coach Bill Self’s explained defense wasn’t optional.
“I need to be a two-way player. He kept harping on that,” Oubre said of Self. “Once I pretty much bought in and realized that’s going to help me get money at the next level. That’s when the tables started to turn for me.”
Oubre finished with averages of 9.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 21 minutes.
“It was tough, definitely, but I handled it pretty well,” he said. “I didn’t really let my situation get the best of me.”
That confidence is key considering the talents he’s about to face on the NBA level and the other small forwards on Washington’s roster. That group may include 37-year-old Paul Pierce. Another Kansas alum, Pierce will announce before July 1 whether he intends to return or become a free agent.
“Veteran guy in the league,” Oubre said of Pierce. “I don’t want to say he’s on his last stretch, but he’s a guy who knows how to play the game.”
Maybe Oubre will get to play next season in Washington with Pierce. Perhaps the year after with Durant, a free agent next summer.