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NBA

Kelly Oubre’s 0-fer Threatens To Consume Us All

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It’s already a traditional Golden State Warriors season in that pre-2013 kind of way. They are 1-2, they are allowing 130 points per game with a scoring margin of minus-21, and they’ve just had their first catastrophic injury since Klay Thompson detonated his Achilles tendon 40 days ago—in a practice. True, Marquese Chriss is nobody’s idea of a foundational piece, but a broken leg is a broken leg, and if you believe in danger by proximity, the team better start wrapping up the revelatory James Wiseman in an inflatable sumo suit between games.

After all, you want to protect your most accurate three-point shooter from any kind of freak accident.

Yes, it’s three games in and already the Warriors look like they force-fed you psychotropic drugs. They were a hard team to figure going into this season and have become only weirder—and not just because they regally stink defensively, which is presumably some kind of sardonic homage to most of their history. I mean, if the Clippers didn’t exist, you’d probably be watching these guys with your usual combination of morbid curiosity and malevolent glee. Their renaissance seems just that long ago, and remaking it seems all that farther away.

There is in particular the matter of Kelly Oubre The Younger, their tax-prohibitive pickup of the off-season, who has managed somehow to miss all 33 of his non-dunk-non-putback shot attempts so far, is 0-for-17 from beyond the arc, and has the worst shooting percentage through three games since the beginning of the shot clock era, which is now 66 years old. He has not been bashful about the modern adage “shoot your shot,” and is not likely to be deterred by the Detroit Pistons and their basic Piston-hood Tuesday evening. He is important to the Warriors as they desperately vamp through another season without Thompson, and almost absurdly, they need him to continue to be unabashed about pulling up for his, if only to keep Stephen Curry from being quadruple-teamed on every possession.

But there comes a point when the numbers start to take on a weight of their own, and Oubre is already being singled out not only for the worst shooting start in three-point history, he also has as his only non-dunk field goal a putback that looked like it might have been another dunk attempt.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 22: Kelly Oubre Jr. #12 of the Golden State Warriors dunks during the first half against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center on December 22, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
OK but let’s acknowledge that this dunk was very cool. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

This level of errant aim does lead one to wonder when Steve Kerr has The Talk with Oubre, if he does at all. The Warriors are now a two-man team with Curry and Wiseman as the two offensive prongs, which is insufficient to their needs. Oubre’s value as a defender, which may be every bit as high as Draymond Green’s given Oubre’s position astride Curry and Andrew Wiggins, means he has to play significant minutes in any game that isn’t a 26-point blowout or a 39-point blowout three days later, and that means he has to shoot his way out of whatever this is. The answer may not be more threes (his career average over six seasons in Washington, Phoenix, and San Francisco is a modest .320, so it’s not like he has going to replace Thompson on the offensive end), but at some point he has to shoot better than .000 outside the shadow of the rim.

Thus, what we are about to see is a seasoned player who does not have a history of mindless chucking deal with the worst kind of shooting slump—the kind at the beginning of the season where no extra searching is needed to figure out context, and with no good moments against which to compare the current malaise. We will see the extent of his conscience, his boldness, and his refusal to be cowed by the negative input of no reward whatsoever. And we may even see the limits of Kerr’s patience with a player he needs. It will be a small discovery given that the Warriors are still tactically a 1000-piece monochrome puzzle, but when you start as Oubre has, people start to pay attention to your struggles with an outsized fascination. I mean, if not for this, would Kelly Oubre hit the back of your eyeballs at all? The answer is probably no.

He remains game to try, of course, like all players do even when their confidence is entirely unwarranted. “I’m gonna continue to shoot the shots that are open,” he said before the Chicago win Sunday. “They will fall because I work my ass off.” Sure, as though work alone merits better results.

But there is one thing with which Oubre can take solace. He hasn’t gotten hurt yet, which is very much the Warrior Way these days, so maybe he’ll need industrial bubble-wrapping too.