- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2018

Kelly Oubre identified a “simple” reason for his recent shooting stretch.

Dating back to the regular season, the Wizards forward is shooting just 31.7 percent over the last 12 games — and 22.9 percent from beyond the arc.

“Just life, bro,” Oubre said last week. “Simple as that.”

OK, then.

Regardless of the reason, the Wizards need Oubre to step up during the team’s first-round series against the Raptors — particularly after Toronto’s bench helped swing Saturday’s contest.

In Game 1, Oubre logged only 16 minutes and went 1-for-4. He played 11 fewer minutes than his regular season average, a sign coach Scott Brooks isn’t willing to tolerate mistakes. Brooks said he would cut the rotation, and the reduced minutes for the bench are coming, partly, at Oubre’s expense.

If Washington’s reserves are going to see fewer minutes, they need to take advantage of the limited playing time by being productive.

That starts with Oubre — who showed flashes of breaking out in last year’s playoffs. The 22-year-old played well in the second round against Boston, which juiced expectations for him prior to this season.

But Oubre’s “jump” hasn’t really happened.

Outside his shooting slump, Oubre’s had problems defensively throughout his career. He misses backdoor cuts, fails to make the right rotation and doesn’t contain as well on opposing wings. He’s had mental lapses.

“With Kelly, I just want him to focus on the defensive end,” Brooks said. “I would like for him to make some shots, but the game rewards you if you work on the defensive end. … He hasn’t been a good defensive player.”

Oubre is still young, and he’s been only in the league for three seasons. There’s still time for him to improve. He has the tools, namely the length and wingspan, to be, at least, an average defender.

But part of the reason his development gets so much attention — and why he’s needed in this series — is that the Wizards’ bench has been a tire-fire beside him. They’ve slightly been better this season, largely due to Tomas Satoransky’s improvement and a nice find in Mike Scott.

The Wizards’ bench lags, however, in comparison to Toronto, and frankly, most other teams. The unit ranked 18th in net rating, being outscored 3.4 points per 100 possessions.

Washington does face some challenges when it comes to rounding out the roster. The trio of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter all make the max — meaning there’s limited flexibility because of the salary cap.

Still, that doesn’t explain some of the head-scratching moves from general manager Ernie Grunfeld. Look no further than Thursday’s acquisition of veteran point guard Ty Lawson. There are now five point guards on the roster — when Washington only has one backup wing (Oubre) and no backup shooting guard, due to Jodie Meeks’ recent 25-game suspension for a drug-policy violation.

Yes, any addition this late in the season likely won’t see playing time during the postseason. But why didn’t the Wizards prefer adding a wing? At the time, Porter was questionable for Game 1 with a right calf strain.

Brooks said they could use Satoransky, who’s 6-foot-7, to play on the wing, if need be.

“Let’s face it, Tomas is one-two-or three with John coming back and playing heavier minutes,” Brooks said. “We look at him as a wing player, a wing defender, a wing ball mover.”

Against the Raptors, Satoransky hardly saw the floor. He played 12 minutes, with Brooks preferring to ride Beal and Wall.

In the playoffs, stars are going to play more. Brooks wants to keep at least one of his two All-Stars on the floor at all times.

But there are moments where a second-unit can come in and help spark a late run. That’s exactly what happened in Game 1 when Raptors reserves Delon Wright and C.J. Miles took over in the fourth quarter of the Wizards’ 114-106 loss.

The Raptors had the roster versatility, so coach Dwane Casey could trust his bench in big moments.

The Wizards don’t have the same luxury, though they need more from guys like Oubre and Satoransky.

“I’ve definitely learned from the slump, I will say that,” Oubre said. “I’ve put in the gym countless hours, definitely putting in the hours and the reps. … It’s all mental. I feel better now and tomorrow is a new day.”

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