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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