No commodity in the NBA is more precious than a young wing that is both a legitimate scoring threat and a defensive menace. Someone who can get buckets on one end and give opponents a headache on the other.
The Warriors are going to need such a player, and their draft picks, No. 7 and No. 14, represent the best path to finding one.
They had such a player last season in Kelly Oubre Jr. He’s on the roster for a few more days, but he’ll be a free agent next week. Every dot worth connecting over the past couple months makes it clear that he is staring at the exit door and eager to explore the market.
“I’m really just looking to make the best decision with my team and my family, that’s best for us,” he told Michael Scotto over the weekend on the HoopsHype podcast. “Obviously, I want to be a leader, and I want to continue to expand my game, grow and spread my wings.
“I want to continue to show all the things I’m capable of and not be put in a box. I felt like the universe was trying to put me in a box last year. It’s something that always clashes because it’s a big deal whenever I’m trying to be put in a box because I can’t be put in a box. I’m going to continue to show you and prove to you why you shouldn’t put me in a box. I think that just fueled me to work harder this summer and to come back next year and be a better all-around player.”
Put another way, Oubre felt like a misfit last season with the Warriors. Perhaps because he was. He was given a role: defend at the point of attack and run the floor. He did some of both, but it was like watching a jaguar on a leash. There was a discipline that felt forced.
The Warriors seem to recognize this, even as they won’t publicly rule out the possibility of Oubre returning.
“I'll talk to his agent who I've spoken with before,” Warriors president Bob Myers said Monday. “And you know, he was good. And the question is does it work for us? Does it work for him? And we haven't really dug into that as much. We'll wait for the right time.
“Right now, we're focused on the draft and can't do anything now even if we wanted to. So, it's about seeing if it's a fit and we haven't ruled that out. I haven't read anything he said. Hopefully, he hasn't ruled it out completely.”
Ruled it out completely? No. But those dots are there for a reason, and when connected they make a return highly unlikely.
Which is why the Warriors are approaching the draft as if Oubre, their wolverine of a wing, capable of defending all three perimeter positions, is headed elsewhere -- and even if he weren’t, they still could use another wing.
Andrew Wiggins may or may not be back; I’m thinking he will. Klay Thompson’s return date is one thing, his productivity peak quite another. After that, who can Steve Kerr assign to defend Western Conference mustangs Devin Booker and Luka Dončić and Paul George and Donovan Mitchell and Anthony Edwards?
In the best of times, these assignments would go to a healthy Klay. In reality, Myers concedes that he doesn’t know who will start in the backcourt alongside Stephen Curry. Last season, it was Oubre. If he was returning, he’d be the guy again next season. The problem there is that when Klay comes back, Oubre goes to the bench and he’s not feeling that move.
Of those certain to be back, Jordan Poole has the most to offer, but at 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, he’s a smallish wing. Moreover, neither Kerr nor Myers is inclined to go that route.
“How we would view a guy like Jordan, who did finish well, is we look at him as part of our rotation,” Myers said. “So that's helpful to have some clarity. We went into last season with not much clarity on anything. I think we have more clarity, whether it's you can play Juan (Toscano-Anderson), you can play Jordan, and these guys have established themselves.
“Then you say, well, what does the second unit look like or until Klay comes back, who should we start? If we draft this guy, would you actually start him? Or would you start Jordan?”
Golden State’s need for wings is that acute. It’s the way of the league. Having multiple versatile wings not only is advised but practically necessary to compete at the highest level.
It’s why lottery picks James Bouknight and Moses Moody have been mentioned so often as being future Warriors. It’s why Franz Wagner and Jalen Johnson are getting long looks. It’s why Keon Johnson and Corey Kispert can’t be counted out.
Somebody, or somebodies, must replace Oubre. Because, barring a massive change in circumstances, he’s going to be wearing another jersey.