For Kelly Oubre, Jr., finding a consistent role in Wizards head coach Scott Brooks' rotation has been a process of dramatic peaks and valleys, all within a matter of weeks. He has shown flashes and as a result earned meaningful minutes, only to see those opportunities vanish very quickly, as others get their chance. Brooks' bench has been a fluid entity over the first five weeks of this season and Oubre has floated in and out of his coach's favor.
That dynamic was demonstrated well over the last three games. On Nov. 25 against the Magic, Oubre went scoreless in 15 minutes. The next night, against the San Antonio Spurs, Brooks offered the second-year pro just three minutes. Whether it was a matchup or a mistake Oubre himself made, he was out of the rotation, at least for one evening.
Then, on Monday night in an overtime win over the Kings, after Otto Porter got in early foul trouble, Oubre was given extended run and responded with his most complete game as an NBA player, his first ever double-double. The former first round pick scored 10 points, grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds and topped it all off with two assists and two steals.
"I thought his minutes were huge, obviously, in the first half," Brooks said. "We were in foul trouble with a lot of our guys, and I thought Kelly came in and did a good job of really just locking in and focusing on what we need out of him: defend, rebound and run."
Brooks has harped on that message over and over in the past month when asked what Oubre needs to earn consistent minutes. He wants him to focus on defense and play within himself and Brooks' system on offense.
Oubre has taken that advice to heart and believes putting in extra work outside of games is what will ultimately allow him to break through.
"My focus is definitely growing. I'm studying more film. I'm looking at scouting reports more," Oubre said. "Knowing the scouting report. Knowing what people like to do. Knowing who likes to shoot, who likes to drive, and pretty much being on top, being a step ahead at all times, and that is a big thing on being a good defender so that is what we tried to do tonight.”
On the other end of the floor, Oubre went 6-for-6 from the free throw line to set career-bests in both makes and attempts. On one foul, he challenged Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein at the rim, a fearless attempt at dunking over a player drafted sixth overall last year largely because of his ability to block shots. Matt Barnes, who is known for hard fouls, was also in on the play.
"Don't go in there soft," Oubre said of drawing fouls. "In the past I haven't been getting any calls because I've been going in there soft. I'm turning my shoulder and opening my chest, pretty much to force the foul. I just gotta go in there and try to dunk everything like I can do."
As Oubre's season so far has demonstrated, one strong performance doesn't guarantee another the next time out. Monday night appeared to be progress, but Wednesday night at the Oklahoma City Thunder offers another test to see if he can carry success over from game to game.