Kelly Oubre is starting to earn playing time with the Wizards after not being in the mix when the season began. The player he was traded for on draft night, Jerian Grant, is starting to swoon after sizzling early with the New York Knicks.
It goes to show that there will be spikes, dips and mostly flatliners throughout a rookie season for most draft picks. How long did it take for Andrew Wiggins of the Minnesota Timberwolves to find consistency? He's in his second season and has the benefit of being on a bad team that doesn't have any realistic playoff expectations. And because of that, he can start, make mistakes and not get benched.
Oubre, a No. 15 pick, had four points on 2 of 3 shooting in Saturday's 108-99 win vs. the Orlando Magic. His season-high is 11.
Grant, who was drafted 19th by the Wizards, sent to the Atlanta Hawks for Oubre and later dealt to the Knicks, rose quickly. Grant shot 14-for-26 in his first four games. Now that teams are playing him to put the ball on the floor and drive, taking away his path to the basket and he's struggling at 8-for-32 shooting in his last six games.
“It’s just called welcome to the NBA. People watch us play, the same way we watch them play,” coach Derek Fisher said, according to the New York Post. “Some guys have made adjustments to how they’re defending him. He’ll learn how to still do what he does best in terms of getting penetration. Becoming a part of this league — and certainly sustaining it — allows you to embrace your weaknesses, the things you don’t do so well.
“For Jerian, he’s going to have to embrace the opportunity that teams are presenting. If they’re going under screens, you’re going to have to learn to shoot from behind those screens, make teams pay for their adjustment by making an adjustment yourself.’’
This is why when a rookie starts off hot or cold, jumping to conclusions at such an early stage is premature. Bobby Portis, bypassed by the Wizards and taken 22nd by the Chicago Bulls, went from averaging a double-double in the preseason to getting on the court just twice now that the games count. He has 12 total points, 10 of them coming in garbage time of a 25-point blowout loss to the Charlotte Hornets.
What does all of this mean? At this point, not a whole lot.
But the Wizards (4-4) showed why they made a deal for Oubre even though it came in a 24-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. At 6-7 and exceptional athleticism, he was one of the multiple bodies they put on the floor to defend Kevin Durant and it came in the first half when the game remained competitive.
In the East, that's where his value resides because the best player is LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers who attacks from the wing. Neither Grant nor Portis have the defensive potential of Oubre, who also made his first two three-point shots against the Thunder.
Oubre started the fourth quarter of Saturday's game with Orlando with a 79-76 lead. To play him in a situation like that, with the Wizards desperate to end a three-game losing streak, means coach Randy Wittman sees something.
He could move up in the rotation and continue to get steady time, or he could fall back when Alan Anderson returns from left ankle surgery. But this is a major step in the right direction for Oubre.