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How studying film has helped Kelly Oubre, Jr. emerge for Wizards

How studying film has helped Kelly Oubre, Jr. emerge for Wizards

Ask Kelly Oubre, Jr. what he's currently working on in practice and in games and he will describe to you in specific detail his short-term goals, whether they involve decision-making when coming off screens or the positioning of his body when attacking the rim in order to draw fouls. Either he is a little more forthcoming than the average player on his day-to-day tasks, or he breaks the game down to its finer points more than others.

Despite his youth and inexperience, there is reason to believe it may be the latter. Oubre has dedicated himself to watching film and studying scouting reports to a new degree this season, and that process may shed light on what has helped the second-year pro emerge as the Wizards' most productive and consistent bench player. It may help explain why after Wednesday night's win over the Hornets, head coach Scott Brooks was fielding questions about whether Oubre should now be inserted into the starting lineup.

Ever since he was pulled after playing less than three minutes against the Spurs on Nov. 26, Oubre has found a new level of consistency for himself as an NBA player. In his last nine games, Oubre has averaged 9.7 points on 51.6 percent shooting, 5.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 24.7 minutes. It's a growing sample size and it's coming at a good time with the Wizards looking for more from their bench.

Preparation has been instrumental in Oubre's improvement, particularly on the defensive end where he has become a disruptive force. With his length and quickness, he can fluidly switch back and forth from guards to forwards. Watching film has helped him unleash those skills in situations where he can make educated guesses about what his opponent is going to do.

"That helps me out a lot on the court," Oubre said. "Last year I didn't really focus as much as I should have because I was so enamored with who I was playing, the 'wow I'm in the NBA' stage. But now I know how to focus on my opponent and how to be ready to destroy."

Instead of reacting to others, Oubre feels he can take more of an initiative on both ends of the floor. What used to risks are now calculated ploys. 

That is well illustrated by Oubre's recent uptick in steals. He has eight steals in his last four games and in each of those outings has picked off a pass and turned it into two points on the other end. 

"You always know when somebody is prepared and when they're not," Oubre said. "You can move one step ahead. And a lot of the times, for me to be successful, I've gotta be one step ahead."


Oubre said he was first taught how to study film on his own by basketball consultant Drew Hanlen, a former point guard at Belmont University who has since made a name for himself as a skills coach with clients like Bradley Beal, Andrew Wiggins, Dwight Howard and Zach Lavine on his résumé. 

Oubre had watched film ahead of games with his teammates at Kansas University. Head coach Bill Self would walk them through scouting reports collectively. But Hanlen took that process to a finer degree.

"As the level of play gets better, the more detailed you've gotta be," Oubre said. "Now, you watch detailed scouting reports on player's tendencies; whether they like to go left or like to go right, whether they like to pull up or go to the basket. It's very strategic because you always want to be a step ahead of the opponent. That's the edge that film gives you."

These days Oubre swears by watching film. Wizards staff members will send him files through a dropbox link. Oubre can download those clips to his iPad or his cellphone. He can watch film just about anywhere, thanks to advances in digital video.

"If I don't have any of those other gadgets accessible, I watch it on my laptop," he said. "The more I watch, the more I see and the more I know in advance. Where to be and where I shouldn't be, the things that work and the things that don't work. It all plays a part."

Oubre has also utilized virtual reality, as much as anyone on the Wizards. The team invested in VR technology provided by a company called STRIVR before the 2015-16 season, Oubre's rookie year. Oubre says he has been an early-adopter.

"It's a great tool, man. I love it," he said. "It's like film but more advanced. It's your eyes seeing something that was in the past that you already did. You will watch something and then you will already be familiar with what that thing is. You can go back in time in your brain and put yourself into that moment. You can see everything that was around in that moment. You can see what was on the ground, see whoever was there shooting at a basket. You can be in an empty gym, but you feel like you're at a practice or you're anywhere that the virtual reality thing says you're at."

Oubre can work on everything from the playbook to his free throw shooting form using the VR headset. Not every player has taken to it as quickly as Oubre has, but he believes it helps.

"When I do use it, I do see a significant change in whatever I'm using it for," he said.

Brooks talked plenty earlier this season about how important focus is for Oubre, that they want him to pay attention to the details and play within himself and their system. Lately, he has been doing just that and it seems to be paying off.


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Wizards, Rui Hachimura get a glimpse at Rookie of the Year favorite Ja Morant

Wizards, Rui Hachimura get a glimpse at Rookie of the Year favorite Ja Morant

For a game featuring a 7-16 Wizards team and the 8-16 Grizzlies, Saturday's matchup packs plenty of intrigue. 

With Rui Hachimura showing plenty of promise in Washington and Ja Morant nearly running away with the Rookie of the Year Award, we're all in for a classic battle of two of the game's best newcomers. 

Outside of that for the Wizards, Saturday night should absolutely be a win. The Grizzlies are 24th in NET rating (25th offense, 21st defense) and while their young core is as promising as any in the league, they don't quite know how to put together wins yet. 

Here's a breakdown of two players the Wizards should be wary of. 

Ja Morant

As we stated earlier with Morant, he's been far and away the best rookie this season. He's averaging 18.7 points, 6.4 assists and 3.2 rebounds on 46.3 percent from the field and 42.2 percent from three. 

Morant had the generational physical tools and exciting upside that got him drafted second overall, the question was whether he'd be able to put it all together at the NBA level, especially playing the hardest position in the league as a lead guard. 

It's safe to say he's answered almost all of those questions just 19 games into his career. 

The Wizards will have to contain his drives to the rim and force him into contested jump shots, which is a lot easier said than done for this defense. 

If they can't keep him in front and he starts breaking down the defense off the dribble, look out. He could mess around and get a triple-double. 

Jaren Jackson Jr.

Before the Grizzlies drafted Morant, Jackson was their crowned jewel prospect. Don't get me wrong, he's still one of the best young players in the league, it's just a testament with how good Morant has been. 

Jackson has the potential to be one of the best defenders in the league one day. When he's playing well, he provides the Grizzlies defense incredible versatility since he can switch onto nearly every position while being able to protect the paint and rebound at a high level. 

Then on the offensive end, Jackson can stretch the floor on pick and pops (37.8 percent 3P) and put the ball on the deck to attack closeouts. He truly is the embodiment of the modern NBA center. 

The Wizards have been used to paint-dominant centers after playing the Sixers and Nuggets over the last few weeks. Jackson just might present a better matchup for their injury-riddled frontcourt. 

Washington would be wise to use Moe Wagner to keep him stretched out of the paint and then take advantage of the Grizzlies suspect perimeter defense to get to the basket. That is, of course, if Wagner can stay on the floor. 

The Wizards and Grizzlies are scheduled to tip at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday, and you can catch all of our coverage on NBC Sports Washington. 

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Ja Morant reminds Wizards head coach Scott Brooks of Russell Westbrook

Ja Morant reminds Wizards head coach Scott Brooks of Russell Westbrook

WASHINGTON -- Wizards head coach Scott Brooks coached Russell Westbrook for seven seasons in Oklahoma City, as Westbrook developed into one of the best and most electric players in the league. He knows just how good Westbrook is and does not throw around comparisons to him lightly.

But when Brooks watches Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant, whom the Wizards will see for the first time on Saturday when they play at the Grizzlies, he can't help but be reminded of the eight-time All-Star and 2016-17 MVP who now plays for the Houston Rockets.

"He's as dynamic and explosive as any player that has come in [the NBA] in a long time. You see a lot of Westbrook in him where he attacks and is fearless. He plays hard, he puts so much pressure on the defense," Brooks said.

The No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft, Morant is technically ahead of schedule with the Westbrook comparison. He's only 20 yet as a rookie he's averaging 18.7 points, 6.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Westbrook wasn't scoring that much until his third season, at Age 22.

Certainly, Morant still has a long way to go to reach Westbrook's level as a perennial All-NBA player who is the first to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson. But Brooks is already surprised by several things Morant is doing that make him wonder just how good he can someday be.

"It's pretty remarkable to come in and do what he's doing. He won a game defensively by blocking a shot. He attacks the rim. He makes plays, he can pass with either hand. He sees the floor. A lot of times, it takes two or three years to get all of those reads down and he seems to be able to have his checkpoints off pretty quick. He finds the next read if [the first one] is not open," Brooks said.

Brooks also remarked how he didn't think Morant would shoot threes this early in his career as well as he has so far. Morant is knocking down 42.2 percent from long range, much higher than Westbrook's 30.5 percent career average, for comparison.

The Wizards will have their hands full when they face Morant and the Grizzlies with no ideal option to guard him. Perhaps Brooks can tap back into his OKC days to come up with an answer.