The Trending Hornets series evaluates the career trajectories of Charlotte’s players based on two advanced stats - Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) - as provided by Basketball Reference.
PER measures per-minute production standardized such as the league average is 15. A PER above 15 means a player contributed above league average. As a frame of reference, among this year’s PER leaders the Top 60 rated somewhere between 17.7 and 31.3.
VORP is a box score estimate of the points per 100 team possessions that a player contributed above a replacement level player. A VORP of 1.2 means the team was 1.2 points better off per 100 possessions with this player on the floor versus a league average player. Among this year’s VORP leaders the Top 60 rated somewhere between 1.6 and 8.6.
This week we will look at the trajectory of new arrival Kelly Oubre Jr.
Career trend overview
Oubre was drafted No. 15 overall in 2015 by the Washington Wizards and in his first two seasons he was a below average player as measured by both PER (below 15) and VORP (below zero). In 2017-18, his third NBA season, he averaged 27.5 minutes per game in a reserve role and improved his PER to 11.9, which is still below average, but saw his VORP climb slightly above replacement level at +0.2.
He was traded from Washington to the Phoenix Suns during the 2018-19 season, his fourth year in the league, and put up decent advanced stats that season and the following year. During that two-year stretch his PER averaged just at league average at 15.1 and his VORP was slightly above replacement level at 0.6.
Kelly was then traded to the Golden State Warriors before last season and averaged 30.7 minutes over 55 games. His PER dropped slightly to 13.3, below league average, during his one season with the Warriors but his VORP fell off a cliff and landed below replacement level at -0.1.
What this means for the Hornets
I’ll be honest - this is one of those moments where my pro-Oubre bias is making me question the advanced metrics. My gut tells me he’s better than a slightly-below-average NBA wing as indicated by his PER and VORP. Meanwhile, my brain is reminding me that two different advanced stats paint a clear picture of a player who’s easily replaceable.
I hope my gut is right and my brain is wrong. I like this signing and I expect Oubre to be much better than an average NBA player.
The guy can score as demonstrated by his 18.7 PPG in 2019-20 on 45.2% shooting. He’s an effective rebounder from the wing who has averaged more than six rebounds per game in each of the last two seasons. Oubre has the reputation for playing solid perimeter defense and has averaged about 1.2 steals and 0.8 blocks per game over the last three years.
Those numbers, in my humble opinion, reflect a player who is clearly above league average at his position.
Then again...he’ll be joining his fourth NBA team in four seasons. He wasn’t immediately signed in the first wave of free agency and the contract he signed with the Hornets wasn’t big money (speaking in NBA terms) at two-years, $24.6 million with only $5 million guaranteed in 2022-23. There has got to be a reason so many teams have passed on making a long-term commitment to a 25-year-old with Oubre’s pedigree.
The hope for Hornets fans is Kelly Oubre Jr. meshes nicely with Charlotte’s roster, carves out a consistent role with meaningful minutes, and delivers the best season of his career. He isn’t an efficient scorer with career averages of just 43.3% field goals and 32.6% 3-point shooting, so he’ll need to rely on teammates to create opportunities for him. Where there’s reason for hope is Oubre will be sharing the floor with a number of good passers in LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, and even Mason Plumlee, so his teammates will create shots for him and find him when he’s open.
My gut tells me Kelly Oubre Jr. can play an important role in elevating the Hornets to the playoffs. My analytical, stats-oriented brain is trying to get me to temper my expectations.
I hope my gut is right.