Kelly Oubre Jr. must improve at shooting in order to be rotation mainstay

The Philadelphia 76ers have needed wing depth all offseason and waited until there were just a few weeks left until training camp to make veteran additions in that position. Kelly Oubre Jr. is the Sixers’ latest addition after they brought back Danny Green.

Oubre agreed to a one-year, minimum deal with the Sixers, giving him a more secure spot on the team than Green, whose deal is non-guaranteed. It’s extremely telling that a 27-year-old, 6-foot-7 wing coming off of a season where he averaged 20.3 points per game went unsigned for so long. While Oubre is flashy and athletic, he has not been a major factor on a playoff team since 2017 and 2018, where he was a bench player for the John Wall-Bradley Beal Washington Wizards teams that capped out in the second round.

James Harden’s dissatisfaction with the Sixers could lead him to stay away from the team until he gets his trade. Oubre at least provides a little bit of shot-creation juice in his place, likely off the bench, that will alleviate Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey of some pressure. His shot chart is optimal, featuring almost all shots within 10 feet or from beyond the arc, but there aren’t many aspects of his game for a playoff-contending team to be inspired by.

The Sixers didn’t run any major risk by signing Oubre but the chance that the move pays off significantly is minimal. The biggest way he can earn a big role is by improving as a three-point shooter.

Kelly Oubre Jr. must become a better perimeter shooter for Sixers

In eight NBA seasons, Kelly Oubre Jr. has never posted an above-average three-point percentage. He hovered just below the league average a few times, including in 2022-22. Yet he has been well above average in his rate of three-point attempts in every year of his career besides one. That year was his most efficient, converting 35.2 percent of his downtown shot attempts.

Oubre isn’t someone that players will totally ignore on the perimeter a la Ben Simmons or Giannis Antetokounmpo, so at least he provides some type of spacing. But, especially in playoff settings, he’s not someone the Sixers will often play in crunch time, when Embiid gets double-teamed more. Of the 67 players who took 250 catch-and-shoot three-point tries last season, Oubre’s 32.3 percent is tied for the second-worst of the group with RJ Barrett. Only rookie Jabari Smith Jr., at 29.4 percent, was worse.

The volume is there but if the efficiency doesn’t catch up, it’s hard to imagine Oubre getting significant playing time on the regular. The good news is that the newest Sixers addition can get it done inside the arc in a variety of ways. Oubre shot over 63 percent on shots at the rim in the two seasons prior to 2022-23 — which is well above average — and one could argue that, with a roster much, much better than last year’s Charlotte Hornets, he can get that figure back up. This will especially be helpful in transition opportunities.

With a path to the basket, Oubre can be tough to stop. He’s bound to have a few dunks that energize the home crowd and end up on highlight reels. He has also been pretty good at drawing fouls for his whole career (though his free-throw percentages are rarely good for a player in his position). The Sixers could use Oubre as a dangerous off-ball cutter who will let an open three fly or make a beeline for the rim and challenge whoever stands in his way.

But being a solid interior scorer probably isn’t going to cut it on a team with Embiid and Maxey — versatile scorers who can dish it and get buckets from numerous locations with regularity, thus getting the most touches. They can be weaponized without the ball but Oubre severely lacks playmaking skills to use them right. He’ll command the rock only when two of Embiid, Harden and Maxey sit. Even then, Tobias Harris is arguably just as versatile with the ball because of his efficient shooting and superior (albeit not by a whole lot) playmaking.

Defensively, Oubre has the looks of a versatile wing defender but not the chops, though his 3.2 deflections from last season ranked in the top 10. The Sixers aren’t expecting him to be a linchpin on their defense anyway but it is still an area to improve. Perhaps Nick Nurse can put him in optimal spots to help out and maybe discover some defensive fire that makes him good enough to play 15-to-20 minutes every night.

Speaking of Nurse, the new head coach is ready to install an offense with more motion and try out a bunch of new things. In Oubre, he’ll have an athletic wing with a nose for the basket. If Nurse and his stars can create enough structure for Oubre, there’s a path where he could be a pretty intriguing bench option. But all the creativity in the world won’t save him when he needs to sink a triple.

Oubre lacks the complementary skills that great teams want to get from their role players, hence why it took so long for him to find a new team. The ability to shoot is the most commonplace one in the modern NBA. Oubre has the confidence to shoot it — a refreshing change of pace from some of the Sixers’ other key players, who lack the let-it-fly gene  — but he has played with too many stars to continue shooting the ball with such appalling inefficiency.

The Sixers should have stocked their wing room with as many 3-and-D options as possible. Green fits that mold, as does holdover Danuel House Jr. Furkan Korkmaz isn’t much of a defender but has been a good shooter over his career. Oubre’s game stands out from the rest of Philly’s wings, an argument that can either justify or deny his qualifications for a consistent rotation spot and can swing between both directions at a moment’s notice. He’s a low-risk, moderate-reward addition — a perfectly fine September signing.

At the outset, there isn’t much reason to believe that Kelly Oubre Jr. will elevate the Sixers’ depth to a level that makes them more fearsome in the postseason. Step one to instilling belief is finding a way to improve his three-point shot.

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