Say Anything: Oubre, Warriors are right fit, but wrong time

Useful but ultimately too expensive, Oubre looks like just a one year fling

For a Golden State Warriors team that is using 75% of their cap space on four players, the chase for beneficial players on reasonable contracts around the edges of the roster is becoming increasingly important. Klay Thompson will be returning at some point next season, but you can never have too many athletic wing defenders.

Kelly Oubre Jr. fills a lot of those needs. In his seven seasons in the league, he’s established himself as an exciting offensive player, with pesky defensive chops. For Golden State, he averaged 15.4 points, 6 rebounds, and at least one “ooh, damn!” play game. It’s expected that Thompson won’t be ready at the beginning of next season, so the Warriors do indeed have a need for someone able to start in his stead.

The complications extend beyond simple salary concerns (though those are very real, too). Coming off a knee surgery, Oubre has a historically bad shooting start to the season before stabilizing into a prized rotation player - until a series of injuries ended his season prematurely. In the end, his time with Golden State was very much a mixed bag.

What to like

It’s not hard to pick out Oubre’s highlights. The one that stands out most brightly to me is his 40-point explosion against the Dallas Mavericks back in February. It was a recurring theme in his tenure here: when Oubre plays well, the team wins. That Mavericks game was one of the rare flashes of high-powered offense, with the Warriors hanging 147 points on Dallas. Oubre - playing an increased two-way role due to the absences of James Wiseman, Kevon Looney, and Eric Paschall - put up 40 points on 21 shots in 36 minutes of action. It was the highest scoring output of his career, and the highlights showcase all the reasons that it makes sense to bring him back.

Oubre was the Warriors’ third leading scorer this season, behind only Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins.

Oubre was also adept on the defensive end, a solid rebounder, and one of the few players whose offense was able to self-generate. Cleaning the Glass has him in the 70th percentile (for his position) in defensive rebounding, and 90th in block percentage, and offensive rebounding.

There’s also something else going on here, where Oubre fills gaps. He’s in two of the team’s top three 5-man units, sorted by net rating. There’s a kamikaze element to Oubre’s game. Never shy about driving into a defense, or being a defensive pesk, it’s telling that he was a part of the team’s best units - even though many of the team metrics don’t look too favorable for him.

Though he wasn’t quite suitable for running the second unit, a task that first fell to Wiggins, and then, shockingly to Jordan Poole, Oubre’s viability as either a starter or second unit player seemed to bode well for a future here.

Back to the salary cap concerns

Oubre is one of the few avenues available for Golden State to add more firepower alongside the returning Klay Thompson and the rest of the Warriors. Of course, a major trade could shake the foundations, but assuming the building strategy remains the same, picking up Oubre and his Bird Rights last offseason was essentially a long-term audition for becoming a pillar here.

That audition went well enough for the team to express interest in bringing Oubre back, but not enough to blast through the financial considerations.

In his prime, with a demonstrated willingness to take on all comers on both ends of the court, Tsunami Papi is a desirable player. As we’ve been saying all season though, the pairing was almost certainly doomed. The long-term fit is there, but so too are the long-term deal breakers.

R/Reddit goes on in that thread to show the math. Just bringing in the two impending draft picks (assuming Minnesota conveys their pick) puts the team around $386 million. Oubre, reportedly asking for around $20 million per season, blasts the team well past that $400 million that General Manager Bob Myers said would be “exceeding the limit.”

I’ve gotten from a league source is that Oubre and his camp think they can get over $20 million (annually), and he ideally wants a long-term deal. The two-year, $30 million deal that he did when he was with the Suns is not something he’s looking to do. I don’t get the sense that while Golden State is open to keeping him…

While the money plays a large role in this decision, it’s far from the only concern.

You’ve got to be careful looking at on/off impact for basketball players. Because of all the synergies that occur between personnel, the scoring and defensive impact associated with a guy being on or off the court is compounded by what else the team does in his absence.

That said, it’s far from meaningless, and Oubre’s overall net impact was detrimental. A net negative 11 points per hundred possessions; a mark in the bottom 10% of the league, and below only Paschall; but take a look at the minutes played:

Most of this is on offense, where the team scores 10 less points per 100 possessions, a mark that is worse than 94% of the league. It’s a legitimate concern for a team that ended the season with the 20th-ranked offense. Even with Thompson back in the fold, that’s a major hit to an offense that was a perennial contender for the top - even before Kevin Durant’s supercharged arrival.

So… would you?

All of that said, the Warriors would bring Oubre back, in a vacuum. Dynamic wing defenders are hard to come by and with limited avenues available to bring talent in, the case for an Oubre return would be easy to make.

If only he didn’t pump the team salary up towards $500 million, the decision would be a lot easier. But with guys like Poole, and perhaps even Bazemore available, it’s really hard to see the Warriors and Oubre remaining together, as much fun as it’s been.