This week, Sports Illustrated’s Brian Hamilton released a profile of the Jayhawks' Kelly Oubre Jr. examining the freshman’s potential to be the go-to player for Kansas during the NCAA Tournament. Oubre, averaging 9.0 points per game this season, has shown flashes of brilliance on the offensive end. He has the ability to attack off the dribble and has been a competent long range threat this season, making 37.3 percent of his 3-point attempts to date.
Often understated, though, is Oubre’s defensive ability. Indeed, ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla called it "subterranean" and "underground" on Saturday’s broadcast. Defense is difficult to measure in college basketball because the box score only calculates steals, blocks, and defensive rebounds. While the NBA is able to track player movements in order to better measure the defensive effec of individual players, such technology does not exist on a wide scale for college hoops. Thus, in order to examine the defensive effect of Oubre, we have to rely more on game tape.
In the Jayhawks’ most recent game, a 75-73 loss to Oklahoma, Oubre showcased some of his abilities while defending the Sooners’ talented guards Isaiah Cousins and Buddy Hield. With Wayne Selden limited by an ankle injury, Oubre's defense was even more important for Kansas given that head coach Bill Self frequently uses Selden to guard the opposing team’s best scorer. Oubre was able to fill-in to help hold the Big 12 Player of the Year to just 6-for-20 shooting from the field.
Oubre’s defensive prowess begins with his NBA size. Sure, he’s 6-foot-7, but it’s his 7-foot-2 wingspan that makes Oubre a deadly defender. Oubre’s length gives him the ability to recover and contest shots even when he’s initially been beat off the dribble in a way similar to former Kansas wing Andrew Wiggins. In this first clip, Oklahoma’s Cousins makes a nice dribble move to create space, but Oubre is able to recover and get a hand up against the shot:
Oubre is also able to use his length against penetration. Spending most of the second half covering Hield, Oubre was able to use his length to challenge Hield’s shots when he was able to get into the lane as he shown here:
Additionally, Oubre can use that length to defend the perimeter. Here, Oubre must run through a series of screens to chase Hield as the Sooners look to get their best scorer open. While Hield knocks down the shot, Oubre forces him into an incredibly difficult fadeaway 3-point attempt by getting through the screens and using his length to contest:
Oubre's length has also made him into the Jayhawks' best thief. His 3.6 percent steal rate--meaning Oubre generates a steal on 3.6 percent of possessions he's on the floor--is fifth best in the Big 12. Those steals are obviously valuable since they end an opponent's possession and can help generate offense in transition.
One final component of Oubre's defense is his defensive rebounding. It's worth emphasizing the importance of his rebounding on this season given that in three of the Jayhawks' conference losses, their opponent snagged more than 37 percent of their own misses. Despite playing the wing, Oubre rates as the best defensive rebounder on this Kansas team, grabbing nearly 20 percent of available defensive boards when he's on the floor. Not only does he chase down the misses, Oubre has good fundamentals when boxing out opponents as you can see here:
It's often easy to identify the offensive potential of future lottery picks, and that's certainly the case with Kelly Oubre. His athleticism, size, and shooting ability make him a great NBA prospect. What often goes overlooked, though, is the quality of defense that Oubre brings to the table. His length and defensive fundamentals make him one of the more intriguing prospects in the NBA draft and also provides Kansas with another good perimeter defender heading into the NCAA Tournament.