Less than an hour after the Warriors were informed of Klay Thompson’s probable torn Achilles’ tendon, they were scanning the league for someone capable of filling at least some of the void while also having a salary within their reach.
They landed on small forward Kelly Oubre Jr., who was productive and popular during a strong partial season with the Suns. His $14.4 million salary was beneath Golden State’s $17.2 million traded-player exception.
Oubre is not the ideal fit for the role perfected by Thompson, but that’s because no one in the NBA replicates the dynamic efficiency the five-time All-Star shooting guard brings: An elite catch-and-shoot 3-ball, terrific on-ball defense, a nearly dribble-free presence and a zero-maintenance personality.
But if Oubre’s description of himself is accurate – and it squares with his work in Phoenix – it’s hard to imagine the Warriors doing any better under the conditions.
“The way my game has continuously grown is that you can throw me at pretty much any position, and I would help the team out,” he told NBC Sports Bay Area on Monday. “I just feel like it's positionless basketball. We all can adapt and adjust to different game plans and play whatever position that on paper it says, but we’re all basketball players over here and we all can formulate and adapt together on the court.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said last month that he considered small forward Andrew Wiggins and Thompson as “interchangeable,” meaning that even though they played different positions they both are wings that could fill the same role on either end.
Now it’s Wiggins and Oubre that have to be interchangeable. Both are better pure athletes than Thompson. Both spent one year at Kansas, Wiggins in 2013-14, Oubre in 2014-15. Wiggins is 25, Oubre turns 25 next month. Wiggins is 6-foot-7 and 200 pounds, Oubre 6-foot-7, 203 pounds. Wiggins has a 7-foot wingspan, Oubre’s is 7-foot-3. Both are adept at driving to the rim, but Oubre has a slightly more reliable deep shot.
Wiggins last season scored at least 20 points in 34 of 54 games, at least 30 in seven.
Oubre last season scored at least 20 points in 24 of 56 games, at least 30 in three.
The biggest differences between the two, at least to the naked eye, is that the left-handed Oubre has been known to burn a bit too hot while the right-handed Wiggins’ reputation is of playing it much too cool.
“Coach Kerr is a genius, and he understands how to evolve with the game of basketball as he's always done,” Oubre said. “So, it’s something that we can all put to the test and prove that there's no real positions in basketball anymore.
“You have centers dribbling and shooting step-back 3s now, just like you have point guards like Steph (Curry) changing the game. The 2 and the 3 have always been that position that people have always noticed that OK, ‘Who are the top guys?’ It’s either a two-way defensive/offensive player, or it's point forward like LeBron.”
Thompson, Wiggins and Oubre all fall into the former category, posting relatively modest assists totals, though Wiggins and Thompson, both averaging 2.3 per game over their careers, have been more proficient than Oubre’s 0.9 dime per game average. His paltry numbers likely will rise in the Warriors’ pass-heavy offense.
For Oubre, now on his third NBA team, integrating into the Warriors culture and style of play might be a challenge. That, as odd as it may seem, is kind of his comfort zone.
Oubre has lived in – take a deep breath – New Orleans, greater Houston, Las Vegas, Lawrence, Kan., Washington D.C. and Phoenix before being traded last week to Oklahoma City. He was on the Thunder roster for roughly three days before being dealt to the Warriors.
There are lessons that come with such an itinerant existence.
“I've always adapted my life to ‘be water’ and adapt in shape to the form of whatever is around me,” Oubre said. “So, that's just how I've been able to just get the edge of adapting in uncomfortable situations or uncertain situations, which obviously in the NBA – in life, period – we’re always faced with those.”
Oubre will be an unrestricted free agent in 2021. He’s looking for a place to call home. The Warriors are looking for players who can contribute to a championship-level team within one of the NBA’s most admired franchises.
Consider the next seven or eight months an audition for both parties. If all goes well, the Warriors can assess Thompson, Wiggins and Oubre next summer and decide whether to fit one or two or all three into their vision for the future.