By Stephen D. Riley
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper
A funny thing happened a few months ago when Washington Wizards head coach Randy Wittman began to consistently pair the two best small forwards in his rotation together at the same time: he discovered the Wizards’ version of “small ball.”
Playing savvy veteran Paul Pierce with sophomore swingman Otto Porter allowed Washington to spread the floor while guards Bradley Beal and John Wall went one-on-one with solo defenders. As a result, the team’s tempo sped up. With Pierce potentially on his way out of D.C., the Wizards’ swinging of a draft night trade with the Atlanta Hawks to bring in Kansas freshman Kelly Oubre should be a sign that the pace will continue to be revved up in the District.
Oubre arrives out of Kansas as a 6-foot, 7-inch specimen whose talents range from wing defender to three-point shooter to slasher. All of Oubre’s talents could definitely be used on a roster that—outside of Beal, Wall and Porter—is starting to creep up in age. Critics have called the 19-year-old Oubre a project, but it’s one that the Wizards will gladly take on. He fits the mold of the athletes with whom Washington has refueled their roster over the last few seasons: long, lean and agile. A fast break headlined by Wall with Beal, Porter and Oubre as potential options could be a nightmare for opponents if the rookie develops as the front office hopes. The Kansas forward shot 36 percent from long range, and was the star in his own fair share of dunk highlights. While he may have been somewhat held back in the slower college flow, he could flourish in the open courts of the NBA.
Washington would have had its share of power forwards to choose from, had it stood pat with the No. 19 pick and tried to reinforce the position with Nene’s contract set to expire after next season. But after seeing Wall develop into arguably the Association’s best point guard, Oubre’s selection makes it clear that the Wizards will look to run even more next season. The still-developing Oubre could be forced into immediate action if Pierce does indeed leave, but Washington would probably rather see the young prospect receive the extra minutes, rather than the aging and often-injured Martell Webster. The fact that Oubre can split minutes between small forward and shooting guard just gives Wittman even more reason to get the rookie ready before the season begins.
The team will still be in pursuit of Kevin Durant next season if the All-Star becomes available in free agency. Finding minutes for a possible Durant-Porter-Oubre trio won’t be too difficult considering Porter and Durant, while both wiry, could operate as power forwards in the undersized Eastern Conference. But worrying too much about the future isn’t recommended. Washington is trying to focus on the now and, as of Thursday night, the Wizards are equipped with four youthful athletes that could help pile up some wins next season.