Raise your hand if you had Kelly Oubre Jr. being the Charlotte Hornets’ biggest free agent signing of the 2021 offseason.
Ah, nobody is raising their hand. Thought so.
The Hornets needed to add depth on the wing behind Gordon Hayward; it was not expected said depth piece would signing be one of the best free agent wings on the market to a team-friendly deal at two years, $24.6M with a partial guarantee for year two, but here we are. Oubre Jr. — more commonly known as T$unami Papi — and his explosive athleticism, defensive event creation and supreme shooting confidence have found a landing spot in the Queen City. What exactly will he provide to the Hornets, though?
That’s where the friendly folks from At The Hive come in. This piece will be super clip-heavy and focus on what are, in my opinion, Oubre Jr.’s best traits: athleticism, high energy, and well-rounded defense.
Let’s start with the basics; who are the Hornets now going to ask to check the opposing team’s best scorer on the average night? Probably Oubre Jr. He’s 6-foot-7 and 203 pounds with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, possessing the ideal frame and athletic traits of a perimeter defender in the modern NBA as a player who gets off the ground quickly and has length to disrupt ball-handlers and shooters.
With about seven seconds left in the quarter against the Wizards, Oubre Jr. is at the logo facing the passer, Russell Westbrook. As soon as the ball is thrown, he locates the receiver and covers a ton of ground before blocking the shot with a little less than five seconds remaining on the clock. Oubre Jr. covers ground well, flips his hips to change directions quickly and, obviously, can get up. The Hornets like to play fast, so this type of open-court defensive playmaking will come in handy.
Here, he’s positioned well, communicating with Stephen Curry and keeping an eye on the ball and his man in the corner. As soon as PJ Dozier dives toward the rim, Oubre Jr. is already in place to contest the shot. His hands are up near the ball, he creates contact and uses his length and vertical to slap the layup attempt off the backboard. A 1.2 block percentage in 2020-21 ranked in the 91st percentile among wings per Cleaning The Glass.
There’s a bit more going on in this clip against the Kings. Oubre Jr. is manning the middle with Draymond Green and Kevon Looney pulled away from the paint, and it’s hard not to feel like he’s got some presence as an interior defender and rim protector. Green helps by pointing out the rotation, but again Oubre Jr. is well-positioned and perfectly times his jump to block Glenn Robinson III’s shot.
Isaiah Stewart is one of the better young post bigs in the NBA and Oubre Jr. kinda ate his lunch here. He gets pushed back a step by 250-pound Stewart, but he welcomes the up-and-under move and blocks the shot as soon as it goes up. The best/funniest part of the clip is when he does a push-up to get himself off the floor at the very beginning.
This clip, combined with the previous two, makes me think Oubre Jr. has some potential as a small-ball four with Charlotte. Last season with Golden State, he played 565 possessions as the four and the Warriors defense gave up 112.3 points per 100 possessions in that time, ranking in the 60th percentile of all lineups league-wide per Cleaning The Glass.
Alright, just a couple more defensive highlights and then we’re on to the fun stuff.
Jerami Grant is a good player, I think we’d all agree on that. Oubre Jr. keeps him honest by staying on his feet in the closeout, walls him up and forces him to change direction, stays at his hip on the counter move and doesn’t even give Grant a chance to float one over Looney. He’s only 203 pounds, but I think he’s such a confident and aggressive defender that it’s harder to move him off his spot than his weight would suggest.
Another guy we’ve all settled upon being a good basketball player; Julius Randle. Randle is basically a human bowling ball on the court, and his development as a shot creator and passer led to him making All-NBA third-team last season.
Here, he gets a clean rip off the catch and bursts into his first step, but Oubre Jr. slides his feet the whole time and stays in front of the drive despite Randle’s shoulder being planted in his chest. As soon as the ball gets brought in front of him, he swipes it away for the steal (gotta love the taunt right in Randle’s face at the end, too). Per Cleaning The Glass, Oubre ranked in the 68th percentile among wings with a 1.5 steal percentage last season.
Okay, that’s enough defense for today (*crowd rejoices*). Before we get into the some of Oubre Jr.’s offensive game, I’d like to look at the inconsistent 3-point shooting throughout his career.
He began last season shooting 7-51 3P in his first 10 games. Not a hot start to say the least, and I’m sure Kelly would be among the first to say that. Every shooter goes through slumps though, and Oubre Jr. did turn things around as his year in San Francisco went on.
Take this for what it's worth, but here are Kelly Oubre's average stats over the final 34 games of last season:— Dylan Jackson (@TheJacksonDylan) August 6, 2021
He’s never shot above league-average (36.7 percent in 2020-21) from 3-point range, though he approached it in his full season with Phoenix in 2019-20, hitting 35.2 percent of his threes compared to the league-average 35.8 percent. At this point, he’s more of a shooter in theory than in practice, but having the confidence and comfort to shoot open triples is important to have within an offense, especially in a threes-and-layups oriented system like Charlotte’s.
Plays like these are what Hornets fans can expect to see if Oubre Jr.’s shooting remains inconsistent (which isn’t a guarantee, his jumper could find its groove in Charlotte). Active defense on the perimeter, smart rotations, timely digs at the ball-handler, and a lot of hustle that leads to a fast-break bucket on the other end. Right now, 37 percent of his shots are field goal attempts at the rim, with 36 percent being 3-pointers and the remaining 27 percent being mid-range shots per Cleaning The Glass.
The Hornets have a couple of shooters, whereas the Warriors only had Curry last season (calling Curry just “a shooter” feels so wrong) as a true floor-spacing threat. It wouldn’t be surprising to see that split lean a little more towards shots at the rim than threes and mid-rangers next season given LaMelo Ball’s ability to find open cutters.
Do we all know a point guard who loves to frequently throw hit-ahead passes off a made shot like the one Juan Toscano-Anderson throws here? I think we do. Oubre Jr. loves to score, so he’s usually got his head up looking for the ball in transition. I have a feeling the LaMelo-to-Kelly chemistry in transition will rival that of the AirBnB duo.
There’s nothing special about this, but it’s the little things in life that matter. Oubre Jr. makes a nice, quick cut with Andrew Wiggins backing down Trey Burke on the left block and even though he doesn’t get the ball, he keeps the play alive and tries to tip it in off the rebound. He plays with energy and crashes the glass hard on both ends, which is a staple of the Hornets’ rebounding philosophy; no matter a player’s position, they have to show effort crashing the boards.
Let’s get this out of the way; Oubre Jr. has a negative assist-to-turnover ratio for his career (400 assists, 430 turnovers), and to be frank that’s kinda bad for a wing/forward with a career 20.3 percent usage rate. His assist percentage consistently ranks in the bottom-fifth of wings in the league during his career and there’s little about his game that lends itself to making plays for teammates in the halfcourt.
With the Hornets, Oubre Jr. should be no more than a play-finisher that can occasionally make open-court reads like the one in the clip above — Ball, Hayward, Miles Bridges, Ish Smith and PJ Washington can do the heavy-lifting. He’s not a “bad passer” in terms of technique and ability, he’s just not wired for it and to his credit he’s not out there flinging ridiculous passes around to teammates that aren’t open. He stays within himself fairly well.
Phew. I think we’re done here for today. In no way is this a total encapsulation of what Kelly Oubre Jr. can provide to the Hornets this upcoming season, but I do hope it highlighted some of the attributes that fit best with his new squad. It’s still hard to believe that Charlotte landed a coveted wing that’s only 25 on team-friendly contract and he’s not even coming here to be a starter. Things are looking up around here, folks!