The Warriors like Kelly Oubre Jr. They really do. They will like him even if they move him before the NBA trade deadline hits at noon PT on Thursday.
They love his defensive intensity, his athleticism and his toughness. Oubre is fearless, and there isn’t one player or coach or manager on earth that doesn’t appreciate a “ride-or-die” teammate.
“I love Kelly,” coach Steve Kerr said late Tuesday night. “He’s a pro.”
Yet the Warriors will trade Oubre without remorse if the right deal comes along. Why? Why would they even consider losing a young, 6-foot-7 wing with so many valued assets in a league where no position, perhaps besides point guard, is more essential?
Because Oubre, 25, is set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and there is no unanimous agreement on whether he is a long-term keeper. On a franchise placing a much higher priority on its future than its present, that makes him expendable.
Where Oubre loses points is in two categories that really matter to the Warriors.
One, his defense. There has been enough video to see that his on-ball defense runs hot and cold, terrific in some instances and a devastating mental lapse in others. He is prone to taking risks, and sometimes they backfire spectacularly.
A player like Oubre, with great hands and quickness, but occasional lapses in focus, is most effective in the right surroundings. If there were, say, a Myles Turner or a Rudy Gobert, a real eraser, on the backline, those mental lapses probably might not be so costly.
As is, it’s too much to consistently expect Draymond Green or James Wiseman or Kevon Looney to provide cover.
For a coaching staff and some players accustomed to sharp focus and very rare mental lapses, this can be frustrating.
The second area of concern, which is an offshoot of the first, is the “feel for the game, feel for the moment” equation. Oubre has the athleticism of a young Andre Iguodala but has not shown the discipline or innate sense of what to do and when to do it.
Such as when to dribble into traffic (almost never) and when to move the ball (almost always) to a shooter, as at least one usually is open when there is traffic in the paint. Kelly’s 1.09-to-1 assists-to-turnover ratio would be worst on the Warriors were not for rookie center James Wiseman committing two turnovers for every assist.
The front office, the coaches and even veteran players, such as Steph Curry and Green, yearn for skilled and uber-talented players that, for lack of a better term, “get it.” That’s where the bar was set during the championship-or-bust seasons, and it was fitting.
It’s a bar too high for this roster, for most rosters.
For those that get it, executing is second nature. For those that don’t, execution becomes a coin flip. The difference is illustrated best by the Warriors inconsistent execution.
Oubre’s assist-to-turnover ratio is only slightly worse than that of Andrew Wiggins, who is guilty of some of the same lapses. But Wiggins is harder to trade and seems to have found a defensive gene previously thought nonexistent. The Warriors continue to believe in Andrew.
The Warriors consider Oubre and Wiggins fairly interchangeable, as they would either with Klay Thompson. If a wing is to go, it’s going to be Oubre. He feels the possibility.
“We’ve talked a lot about his circumstances, being a free agent, having his name tossed around,” Kerr said. “It’s not an easy position to be in. But this is how it works. This is the NBA. He’s got an expiring deal, he plays a position of need for a lot of teams and he’s athletic and long. He’s coveted. He’s definitely coveted.
“His name is naturally going to be out there. He’s done a great job of handling everything. He’s really professional and poised and very practical. So, we’ll see what happens.”
Oubre was fabulous Tuesday night, posting team-highs in points (24) and rebounds (10), adding three assists without a turnover. He was the driving force behind a third-quarter comeback that turned a 14-point halftime deficit into a five-point lead entering the fourth.
It was one of Oubre’s best all-around games as a Warrior. It will be surprising, according to multiple sources, if it’s not his last.