In Toronto on Wednesday, Kelly Oubre Jr. did not have any mojo. His paltry line of two points, two turnovers and three fouls was accomplished in 14 listless minutes on the floor. It was as if Otto Porter’s return to the starting lineup had zapped the energy out of the rookie, who was again entering games from the bench after starting when Porter was out.
Washington Wizards coach Randy Wittman talked to Oubre following his foot-dragging performance in Toronto.
“Toronto, he was kind of just out there,” Wittman said.
Friday, against the Orlando Magic, was different. Oubre was active. A back cut earned him an easy two-handed dunk. It took some time for him to be sent into the game — he didn’t enter the court until 5:43 remained in the second quarter — but he was out there at the end. Oubre played the whole fourth quarter.
“He was involved in this game,” Wittman said. “He was rebounding. He was running. He missed two alley-oops, we’ll have to work on that, but he was running. Activity. That’s what I talked to him about [Thursday]. He’s a kid that’s got to go out and play one way. That’s getting after it defensively, rebounding the ball and running the floor.”
These efforts prompted Wittman to call the evening Oubre’s best defensive game in the embryonic stage of his professional career.
More interesting was the time he spent on the floor with Porter. Once Porter returned on Dec. 26 from a thigh bruise, the assumption was that Oubre’s minutes would be curtailed accordingly. The two were an either/or proposition, not a duo that could cohabitate.
Against the Magic, that line of thought was provided a wrinkle. Oubre and Porter played the first 3:42 and final 4:21 of the fourth quarter together. Porter, technically, slid to the four, which he addressed in typical Porter fashion when asked about his comfort level at that position.
“I’m just comfortable out there, period,” Porter said.
Together, they are an lanky and intriguing duo, even if we are discussing a small sample size. Each has an expansive wingspan (7-foot-2 1/4 for Oubre, 7-foot-1 1/2 for Porter, according to draft combine numbers). Oubre, despite being a 20-year-old rookie, could well be the best wing driver the Wizards have. He has also shot a surprisingly high percentage from behind the 3-point line. In December, Oubre did not shoot a lot of threes, but when he did he was highly effective at 54.2 percent for the month.
Since returning to the starting lineup Dec. 28, Porter is averaging 20.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game in three games. Again, another small sample, but a flash of what could be.
“I’m really happy with his progress being this is his first year getting extended minutes,” Paul Pierce said when the Clippers came to Washington. “It’s about consistency now with what he does. If he can continue to put in the work, be consistent … the Otto Porter they need is the Otto Porter we had in the playoffs last year. Also, he came off the bench. It’s different when you start the game and you play against starting players. That’s an adjustment he has to make.”
Oubre was thankful to play the end of a close game on Friday. Afterward, he was also skilled when addressing Porter’s return.
“I control what I can control,” Oubre said. “Otto is a great player. He came back and he was hot fast and coach made a decision to put him back in the lineup and that was a great decision. All I can do is continue to do what I’ve been doing, trying to get better to help this team. I can’t do anything more or anything less.”
For one game, he at least gave Wittman a look at a pairing that may have seen incompatible in the past, and that will be something to think about in the future.