Oubre played 38 minutes in Monday’s win over the Utah Jazz, but he was held out of Wednesday night’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Nobody in the organization had much to say on his injury yesterday, which is generally not a great sign.
While Oubre waits for a second opinion, it’s fair to wonder whether or not he has played his final game of the season. With 23 games left, the Suns might want to play it safe with the 24-year-old forward.
Oubre’s Career Year
Before getting hurt, Oubre was averaging 18.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Both of those marks are career highs. He was also shooting a career-best 45.2 percent from the floor and 35.2 percent from the outside.
On top of that, Oubre’s 0.7 value over replacement player is the highest of his five-year career. A lot of that has to do with him learning how to channel his energy for the better. Oubre has always had the tools to be a good defensive player, but he would get caught freelancing a bit too often. This season, Oubre was a lot smarter defensively. That’s a huge part of the reason that Phoenix has already eclipsed last year’s win total. And offensively, Oubre was a lot more efficient.
Kelly Oubre’s Future Beyond 2019-20
Last summer, Oubre signed a two-year, $30-million contract with the Suns. That means that he’ll be playing on an expiring deal next season. The Suns listened to offers on him at the trade deadline, but they didn’t like what they were hearing.
Phoenix now needs to decide whether or not Oubre is a long-term part of a core that includes Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges.
The Suns’ five-man lineup of Ricky Rubio, Booker, Bridges, Oubre and Ayton has one of the best net ratings in basketball this season. But Oubre is going to be in line for another big payday at the end of next season. And considering Phoenix drafted Cameron Johnson—another small forward—with the 11th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, the front office is going to need to decide whether or not it wants to invest that much in one position.
For what it’s worth, last year’s Toronto Raptors, along with most of the elite teams in the NBA right now, have shown that you can never have enough competent wings.
What This Means for Phoenix
The Suns likely weren’t going to make the playoffs anyway, but this news ruins their hopes completely. Phoenix had already been dealing with a lack of depth this season, so losing a two-way player that gives the team 34.5 minutes per game isn’t making anything better.
The Suns will now get to give Johnson extended minutes the rest of the way. The rookie is averaging 7.9 points per game in 19.9 minutes per game this year, but he’s also shooting an impressive 40 percent from three. Getting him at least 27 minutes a night should be the goal.
Bridges should also get more opportunities on offense. Oubre takes 14.8 shots per game, so there will be some more looks to go around. That could allow Bridges to continue to work out the kinks on his jumper. After a disastrous start to the year from the three-point line, Bridges is now up to 33.6 percent on the season. He has gotten rid of the hitch that plagued him early on, and he has hit at least 40 percent of his threes in two of the last three months.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on what the Suns do with their roster. After deciding not to bring back Jonah Bolden last week, Phoenix already had an open roster spot. With Oubre now hurt, the team will have two openings. Can the Suns find somebody from the G League that might be able to help them the rest of the year?
Ike Nwamu might be worth a look. In 16 games with the Northern Arizona Suns, the 6-foot-5 guard is averaging 18.5 points per game on 48.5 percent shooting from the floor and 41.5 percent shooting from three. Phoenix has needed a backup shooting guard for a while, so the team should at least consider giving Nwamu a chance.