- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

There is a question in the NBA about where responsibility for developing talent rests.

Annually, the NBA draft becomes a what-if corralling of often raw talent. This player spent one year in school, but has a massive wingspan and athletic family. This one just started basketball when he was 16. This one has a broken part of his game that can be fixed in the NBA. Projections and rationales abound.

Once that’s over, who then is responsible for converting a player from project to polished? Him? His coaches? His personal trainers?

The Washington Wizards have one marquee project on their hands: Kelly Oubre Jr. They traded two picks so they could acquire Oubre, who was selected 15th overall by the Atlanta Hawks. They paid heavily for a small forward who did not start at Kansas during the beginning of his only season in Lawrence.

Oubre played little last season. In 63 games, he averaged 10.7 minutes. Injuries to other players shoved him into the starting lineup nine times. He did what many rookies do. At times, he was lost defensively. Others, his athleticism showed. He fouled. A lot. There was little consistent about his playing time or results. The only thing Oubre could control was how often he worked to be better.

In his final conversation with reporters after the season ended, Oubre was asked where he would be this summer.

“In a gym near you,” he said.

Which is what the Wizards want to hear. There are no constraints on the amount of training a player can do once he is out of college. Some take that time and turn themselves into all-stars, like Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, who was the 60th overall pick in 2011. Others exploit their newfound wealth in the offseason, setting their path toward future lists of busts from the draft.

Oubre insists he has been working since the season closed. Tuesday, he began the first of three summer league practices with the Wizards at Verizon Center. Friday, he will be off to Las Vegas for his second tour through summer league. This time, naturally, he feels more steady.

“Since it’s my second go around, I’m a little more even-keeled,” Oubre said. “I wouldn’t say I know what to expect, but I have a grasp so I’m not getting too high, not getting too low. More so I’m motivated, really motivated. I’ve been working this offseason pretty hard and I’m excited to get out there and compete against other bodies and kinda start off a great year.”

He spent May in Orange County, then June in Los Angeles working with trainer Drew Hanlen. Hanlen also works with Wizards point guard John Wall, among other NBA players. Oubre said he arrived in Washington on July 1.

“I’ve been in the trenches working out,” Oubre said.

His numbers from his first season show he needs it. Oubre’s offensive rating was a meager 93 and his defensive rating a bloated 106 (each are estimates of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions). He shot 31.6 percent from behind the 3-point line. He would commit 5.4 fouls per game if he averaged 36 minutes. Though, he was a solid rebounder and had a high steal count. He was also aggressive. Almost 56 percent of his shot attempts were in the lane, meaning Oubre provided a slashing presence the Wizards otherwise lacked.

“I met with coach [Scott] Brooks in the beginning of the summer and he told me the things he expected me to get better at, I grasped on those things, don’t want to get into details,” Oubre said. “I’ve just been working on my all-around game. Everything that, percentage-wise, I wasn’t really good at it. I’ve been working on a lot of that, watching film on the things I did do well, trying to get those better. Very in-detail and tactical.”

Brooks comes to Washington with a reputation for development. He went through the process of bringing along Kevin Durant, James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City. Ibaka and Westbrook were the most raw of the four. Ibaka became a better scorer, rebounder and defender while with the Thunder. When Oklahoma City selected Westbrook fourth overall in 2008 — as a point guard — eyes rolled. Then his shooting percentages went up in each of his first four seasons. Those players put the work in. Their coaches helped lead them.

Oubre’s teammates noted last season that he was not late and did not gripe in practice. His playing time bounced around under former coach Randy Wittman, who could also be exceptionally hard on young players, but Oubre, just 19 years old then, was able to maintain during the season. He said Tuesday that he expected more from himself. Those personal ambitions led to him being overwhelmed at times, he said.

More opportunity should be available this season. The Wizards have limited wing depth, at the moment, which makes Oubre appear to have a clear path into the playing rotation. How his game has evolved will determine that.

There is one thing Oubre learned quickly in his first season. When personal wealth increases, so does responsibility.

“I would say I’m more mature,” Oubre said. “Taxes and bills will do that to you, especially in our tax bracket.”

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