It's almost impossible to overstate how awful Kelly Oubre Jr. played through the first six weeks of this season. Take out dunks, and he missed his first 31 shots in a Golden State Warriors uniform. Narrow it down to 3-pointers, and Oubre missed his first 17 attempts of the season, and through his first 10 games he was shooting 13 percent (7 for 51) from downtown.
Things arguably hit a low point for Oubre in Golden State's loss to the Boston Celtics on Feb. 2. His traditional stats didn't look that bad -- 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting -- but the plus-minus, as wobbly as that number tends to be through a single-game lens, told the tale.
In a four-point loss, Oubre was a team-worst minus-25 in 26 minutes, which is to say he basically cost the Warriors a full point every minute he was on the court. By contrast, in the 22 minutes Oubre was on the bench, the Warriors outscored the Celtics by 21, which is to say the Warriors gained a point every minute he wasn't playing.
Two nights later, Oubre scored a career-high 40 points in Golden State's 147-116 win over Dallas, and he hasn't looked back since, scoring 20.6 points on 50 percent shooting, including 43-percent from 3, over his last 14 games. Most importantly, the Warriors have won his minutes by a combined 41 points over that stretch.
"When I was shitty, I was just getting better each and every day," Oubre recently told reporters. "I was in the gym, working out, working on my craft, adding tools to my bag. ... Godspeed, in due time, those tools will be able to blossom and show."
Oubre's brutal start was particularly painful because he's costing the Warriors north of $80 million, including tax penalties, this season. Before he found his game, it was hard to imagine the Warriors continuing to do business with Oubre, a free agent this summer, beyond this season. You've heard his name in trade rumors, one being that the New Orleans Pelicans had at least made a phone call about a potential Lonzo Ball deal. But Oubre's value, even on an expiring deal, was at rock bottom.
A month later, you could easily see a contender wanting to rent a versatile, athletic defender, who's on an expiring deal and is suddenly making 3s north of 40 percent, for some postseason punch. But now there's a flip side to that scenario: Would the Warriors want to give up Oubre?
This is almost entirely a long-term question. If the Warriors don't see themselves re-signing Oubre this offseason, it's hard to imagine them passing on the chance -- should one arise -- to recoup some future value just so they can ride the rest of this season out with him. They're an average team. They know it. These moves are about next season and beyond.
And suddenly, you can't rule out Oubre's place in Golden State's future. With Klay Thompson back, Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins and Oubre, the Warriors -- already the seventh-ranked defense in the league, per Cleaning the Glass -- would have a solid defensive foundation in terms of versatility, and Wiggins and Oubre add much-needed athleticism to the aging, below-the-rim core of Stephen Curry, Thompson and Green.
Also, it's not just Oubre's numbers that have improved. His comfort level in Steve Kerr's read-and-react offensive system, particularly as it revolves around Curry's impromptu movement, is night and day.
The Warriors don't have any cap space this summer. They're looking at a taxpayer exemption and minimum contracts to build the edges of what they expect to be a contender. They'll pay another boatload in taxes to resign Oubre, but if we're just talking basketball and not finances, they'll have a hard time replacing the two-way production he has provided over the last month with an MLE player.
There are bigger moves available to the Warriors, who have James Wiseman and Minnesota's 2021 first-round pick (top-three protected) as potential trade chips if they want to go star hunting (hello, Bradley Beal). If they were to go that route, which has to be seen as a massive long shot at this point for a variety of reasons, then Oubre's place in the rotation becomes, perhaps, less necessary. That said, the Warriors will still need all the depth, defensive versatility and secondary scoring they can muster if they expect to truly compete for a championship.
Again, as an over-the-cap team, their options for adding those elements this summer are limited short of trading Wiseman or the Minnesota pick. With Oubre's Bird rights, he is quite literally in their nest already. It'll cost dearly to keep him, and there's surely an argument to be made he's simply not worth it. But the last month has at least made that a question.