Before each game, Kelly Oubre leads the Washington Wizards through the tunnel and does a variation of the “dab.” His teammates don’t bat an eye at his dancing or funky clothing, even when he’s wearing pants with President Barack Obama’s face plastered all over.
Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell is a lot more low-key — quiet and almost indiscernible next to some of his peers who’ve turn their bravado into fashion.
But on Monday night, the Jazz and Wizards will get the very first screening of a future marquee matchup between Mitchell and Oubre — two players who, while different in personality, are in the same class of young players on the cusp of taking over the NBA with two-way skills and limitless potential.
What Mitchell should expect
No matter what happens this season — whether the Jazz make or miss the playoffs — Utah has found a cornerstone piece in Mitchell. Watching Gordon Hayward walk through the exit door this past summer might’ve hurt, but 21-year-old Mitchell has more than soothed the pain with optimism.
On Friday night against the veteran-laden New Orleans Pelicans, Mitchell scored 41 points, becoming the first Jazz rookie to ever accomplish such a feat. In that game alone, Jazz fans got a large enough sample size to know how well Mitchell’s skill set has already translated to the league. His quick first step, 7-foot wingspan and vertical are rarely seen in the NBA.
With Rodney Hood out, Mitchell will be atop the Wizards’ offensive scouting report — and Oubre will likely be tasked with guarding him, as he’s defended opposing teams’ go-to offensive options regularly this season.
Oubre, also 21, is amid a breakout season with the Wizards and has been given more responsibilities by Scott Brooks.
Averaging a career-high 11.7 points and 5.5 rebounds on 39 percent shooting from three, Oubre’s offensive game has expanded beyond just spotting up and waiting for the ball. Oubre spent the offseason working with famed basketball development coach Drew Hanlen, who honed Oubre’s dribbling, which has led Oubre to become less reliant on teammates for scoring.
Now that he’s become confident with the ball in his hands, Oubre is taking more threes, too. More than 44 percent of his total shots come from behind the 3-point arc. In 22 games this season, he’s made 36 threes. Last year, through 79 games, Oubre made 54. The difference is, he’s not just a passing target anymore. He steps into threes comfortably, whether it’s in transition or in catch-and-shoot situations.
Despite an expanded offense, Oubre is most impactful defensively, which is what Mitchell will have to deal with.
Oubre, like Mitchell, has a 7-foot wingspan and knows how to utilize his length — a tool most young players don’t sharpen until their fourth or fifth season. The Jazz are in the top half of the league in turnovers and can’t afford to cough the ball up against Oubre, who’s single handedly swung games for the Wizards with steals and momentum-shifting finishes.
Oubre is kind of a remixed version of Andrei Kirilenko, or at least his approach from a defensive standpoint resembles that of the Jazz legend.
What Oubre should expect
There are a couple of different types of 40-point games: the bad kind (the “he took 45 shots and the team lost” 40-point game) and the good kind (the “he took 25 shots and led the team to a win” 40-point game). Mitchell had the latter, and the ESPN shot chart below would make those who swear by advanced analytics start caroling early.
Mitchell attempted just two shots outside of the restricted area that weren’t threes. That means he’s been methodical, opting not to settle for long twos, but instead taking high-percentage shots at the basket and ones from deep — nothing disadvantageous in-between.
Forcing someone to take mid-range jump shots is a lot easier said than done, especially when defending a caliber of athlete like Mitchell, who pretty much dictates his shot selection.
Oubre can, though, become more disciplined defensively. Gambling for steals, like he has a tendency to do, will be costly against someone like Mitchell. Washington benefits from having length and size, but without John Wall, they don’t have a player on the roster who matches up with Mitchell’s unique build.
If Oubre does find himself gambling, Mitchell won’t face much opposition in the paint, as the Wizards are 22nd in blocked shots. Marcin Gortat might look like an intimidating presence, but he leaves a lot to be desired defensively. Ian Mahinmi, who the Wizards signed to off-set Gortat’s defensive weaknesses, especially the lack of rim protection, has been virtually unplayable this season. Washington’s best shot blockers are Wall and Bradley Beal, which says a lot about the backcourt’s defensive capabilities, but equally as much about the big men’s unreliability defensively.
Oubre’s self-control could make the difference for Washington — and Utah, for that matter. He’ll either stifle Mitchell with his length or he’ll create a layup line for the Jazz guard by gambling.