As we approach another year of the chaos that is best known as free agency, rumors are flying when it comes to the most coveted targets that will be hitting the market in just a couple weeks time. Here at BCB, we want to bring some clarity to exactly how much some of these players are worth, what skills they bring to their next team, and how they will fit next to the existing members.
Over the next couple of weeks, we will be breaking down three players to get a sense of what could transpire during free agency and how it could impact the futures of that player and the team. Make no mistake, all of the players we highlight will be hot commodities that command big money, but none of them will be the absolute top options on the market. So no Chris Pauls or Kawhi Leonards here. Quick disclaimer before we get started...projected teams and dollars are just that - projections. If you'd like to file a complaint, please do so calmly and respectfully. No harm done.
By the way, we have a full list of the available free agents for 2021, so please check out the comprehensive database featuring player/team options, non-guarantees, and specific details on each players new contracts once they are signed. For the second entry in the series, we've decided to evaluate what makes Kelly Oubre such an intriguing free agent target coming off of a less than ideal season.
Kelly Oubre (AKA Tsunami Papi) looked to be a young wing on the rise after spending two seasons with the Phoenix Suns. The roster and playstyle was an ideal fit for his talents as a thrilling transition finisher and capable shot creator. He hit a career high 35% of his three point attempts on his way to a career high in scoring at 18 points per game. Unfortunately, he was not able to take part in the incredible bubble run the Suns put together last Summer, but his status as a thrilling wing with swagger to spare was firmly established. With one season remaining on his contract, he was primed and ready to take that confidence into a contract year and cash out this Summer. But as we all know, established plans have a tendency to go astray. Last season was a struggle for Kelly Oubre to say the least. After being shuffled from Phoenix over to and then the bay, He spent a large portion of his time with the Warriors just trying to pry the lid off that had settled over the hoop whenever he set out to accumulate points. Over his first 16 games, he only managed to hit 35% of his shots from the field and 17 threes out of the 84 he attempted.
He found a rhythm later on in the season as he got his legs under him and got more acquainted with his teammates, but still finished at only 31% shooting from distance on the season. He never really found an ideal fit on the Golden State roster and now that they have drafted high upside wing Kuminga that they can develop on a rookie scale deal, there might not be a future for him on the Warriors. The team is attempting to squeeze every last bit of championship potential out of their aging core and that means having to make tough decision, especially in the face of a repeater luxury tax bill.
Now Oubre is left to find his way in a market that value wings who can bring shooting and defense to a roster, but after a challenging shooting year, the money that was once thought to be available to Oubre might not be there anymore. He is still an intriguing player with real value at only 25 years old, but if he continues to be a subpar shot maker (career 32% three point accuracy), then it could be a tough fit for teams taking a look at bringing him in. Coming off of his second contract, he is now sitting on career earnings of more than $38 million. Is that enough tough to get him to turn his attention to winning games, or is he still in the business of getting a maximum return on his next deal? The answer to that question could tell us quite a bit about where he will sign next and for how long. Cap space should be in great supply this year, so there is potential for him to make a good amount of money over a short amount of years if he wants to rebuild his value before hitting the open market again before age 30. There are several factors working for and against him when it comes to securing another healthy contract.
Let's dive into what exactly those are.
Strengths + Weaknesses
Oubre's main appeal comes from his ability to be a limitless ball of energy at times on the court, especially during transition opportunities. He has excellent athleticism and a penchant for detonating right on top of defenders who fail to throw his dunk attempts at the hoop. According to Cleaning the Glass, he took 37% of his shots at the rim last season, which is a decent amount above the average for wings and that's been the case for his shot profile most of the years he's spent in the league.
He typically defaults to his left hand when attempting to create a poster moment, but that doesn't stop him from creating highlight moments coming from the right side of the floor. He's absolutely fearless when he attacks the lane and his finishes come in all sorts of explosive orientations. One foot, two feet, putbacks, reverses, transition, half-court, the variety of his dunks is impressive and creates a wide scope of situations in which he can be effective at the cup. Part of the reason why it's critical for him to create these looks inside, aside from the fact that it's cool and ups the team's energy level is that he isn't that great at getting clean jumpers off by himself. He is pretty self-reliant on others to create offense, and that's a weaknesses of his that will be explained shortly.
His defensive activity provides a good bit of value to his team as well. His length and athletic gifts give him a leg up when attempting to cut of attackers in help situations or holding his own one on one. He has finished his last three seasons averaging between 0.8 and 1.0 steals per game and close to the same averages on the blocks side. Doesn't seem too impressive at first glance, but those rates are nothing to scoff at considering the fact he spends most of his time on the perimeter playing the three. If we instead look at his contributions through the lense of percentages, it paints an even better picture of what he brings to the table. He constantly hits a block percentage of over 1%, which is elite for his position. A 1.5% steal rate for last season is easily above average as well.
He has excellent timing when playing the offense straight up that creates open court opportunities which don't allow the opposition to establish a set defense.
Many of his steals prevented a high percentage shot as well, saving possessions that could have ended very poorly for Golden State and his previous teams.
He displays absolutely no favoritism when seeking out block victims, snatching the souls of guards and big men alike. He has the vertical lift to recover when the shifty attackers gain a step on him, but long and tall enough to send back easy from paint behemoths.
What could stand in the way of Oubre securing a hefty deal from a team this summer boils down to two lacking areas in his game. The first of which is his subpar passing chops. Now it's not like teams look for a ton of playmaking from the SF/PF positions, but the stats still paint a bleak picture that exposes a knack for tunnel vision. First, the basic stats. He has never averaged more than 1.6 assists per game in his entire seven year career. This past season with the Warriors was even worse at 1.3 assists per contest. This is a surface level way to look at his passing ability, but it's adequate in giving others an idea of how lacking he can be in that department.
We can take it one step further and go to his assist percentage and assist to usage ratio. The percentage simply quantifies the percentage of his teammates made shots that he assisted on. The ratio lets us know how often a player assisted relative to how often he had the ball. Ball dominant players have a harder time keeping that ratio high since they have to get more assists to offset the amount of possessions they use. Cleaning the Glass graded out Oubre as a 20th percentile finisher for the 20-21 season in assist % and a truly dismal 5th percentile for assist/usage ratio. That is especially concerning since Oubre operated as a secondary creator and finished with a 20% usage rate. It's high for a forward to be sure, but not overwhelmingly so.
Interested parties could probably overlook that con in his game pretty easily if he was a consistent shooter from distance. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As discussed earlier, he had an abysmal start as a shooter for the Warriors this past season. If he had other strong seasons as a shooter to look back on, maybe we can chalk up this brick-laying season up to a new situation or an injury. He finished near league average with a 35% three point mark with the Suns, but it's been pretty erratic aside from that, never even approaching 40%. That's a major red flag that's made even worse by his iffy self-creation skills.
He is not that great of a ball-handler and relies on teammates to place him in advantageous positions like catch and shoot threes. Those type of shots make up a large portion of his looks, especially from long range.
When he did decide to seek his own, things didn't go so well, as his pull up percentage was drastically worse than when he went to work without a dribble. This combination of weaknesses makes him a niche player who most be brought into a particular situation to be successful. The money left over after the first wave of deals and the teams who have that money to spend will determine how strong the demand for his services ends up being.
The sad truth of Kelly Oubre's situation is the fact that he might get squeezed out of the type of money he earned the last two seasons ($14.8M in 19-20, $14.3M in 20-21). Many teams either have promising young talents on cost control rookie deals to fall back on (Mikal Bridges/OG Anunoby), or established veterans (Jimmy Butler/Khris Middleton). Coming off of a down season, he will have to either settle for something like a three year deal worth $27 million to $33 million over the lifetime of the contract, or take a one year deal straight up with maybe a player option built into the second year. That would allow him to enter the market again next year entering his prime as a 26 year old if he rebuilds some of his lost value, or get another year of guaranteed money if things go sideways again. He passed up a long-term deal two years ago so he can hit UFA status in his mid 20s, but that decision has obviously backfired. Shorter deals bring tons of promise, but a lot of risk in the event of a poor team fit and/or injury.
He will probably try to leverage his remaining upside and gifts as an attacker/defender in negotiations. but it is often a tough sell if you don't have at least one very good/elite skill to fall back on. He is good to great in a couple areas, but very weak in a couple more. His age will make things tricky as well. Rebuilding teams might find him too old, while playoff hopefuls might already have their swingman of the future in place. Either way, he will almost certainly get an offer, but it could take time to find the ideal fit and a contract with upside to reflect his relatively young age.
Possible Landing Spots
The Kings would make the decision to get cute and play three guard lineups last season featuring Fox, Hield, and Haliburton, but that's not a viable combination of players that can share the court for extended periods of time. Plus, Hield doesn't seem to be long for Sac Town, as his replacement was found in the draft that already looks to be a great fit next to franchise star Fox who is also a fair amount cheaper and younger. Harrison Barnes is best deployed as a four, which leaves the team with a gap to fill at the three. A Fox/Haliburton/Barnes/Holmes starting lineup seems to have enough shooting to surround Oubre that should allow him the necessary space to get downhill without a ton of resistance in the form of help defenders. The two high IQ guards should also be able to get Kelly the ball where he is most dangerous and has the best chance to get in a rhythm. Additionally, the Kings have been in desperate need of a stingier defense that could allow them a real chance at the playoffs. Oubre's skills on that end would much appreciated and his competitive fire could ignite a sleeping giant for that organization as a whole. Neither side would have much to loose going in on a short-term MLE deal to test the waters. This might be the most desirable union for boths sides searching for a boost to their respective reputations.
New York Knicks
New York has plenty of cap space they can use to get Oubre early in the free agency process, or they can wait and use either the Room Exception for NTMLE to bring him in later if there is interest. With RJ Barrett's and Randle's newfound jumpers, it creates a chance for Oubre to slot in on the wing without dragging down the spacing too much. That trio would be quite a handful on fast breaks and other downhill opportunities, as they all relish contact and chances to dunk on peoples heads. Oubre definitely seems like a player that Thibodeau would love to have on board with the defensive passion he brings every night and his gritty makeup. The shooting would be a challenge for a team that struggled in that area last season, but it would be less of an issue in a bench role. Maybe that's the course correction he needs to get back on track. He could be a very valuable 6th man who enters the game midway through the 1st quarter or even earlier to provide energy and a change of pace during those January slogs. Overall, there aren't many teams out there dying for Kelly Oubre to come in and save the day, but a few unique circumstances could help him restore his value and help a team pick up a few extra wins in the process.