Denver Nuggets: Is Kelly Oubre Jr the wing of the future?

How would Kelly Oubre Jr. fit with the Denver Nuggets? He will be a free agent this coming 2021 NBA free agency period. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
How would Kelly Oubre Jr. fit with the Denver Nuggets? He will be a free agent this coming 2021 NBA free agency period. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images) /
How would Kelly Oubre Jr. fit with the Denver Nuggets? He will be a free agent this coming 2021 NBA free agency period. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
How would Kelly Oubre Jr. fit with the Denver Nuggets? He will be a free agent this coming 2021 NBA free agency period. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images) /

The Denver Nuggets enter this offseason in one of the more unique team situations. They have their star and MVP in Nikola Jokic, they have their solid second option in Jamal Murray, and one of the deepest rosters in the league.

The issue is, with Jamal sidelined for most of next season, the Nuggets front office has to find a short-term replacement and long-term backup. They have to find someone who can come in, replicate Jamal’s production but be happy taking a back seat when he returns.

That player isn’t out there for the minimum, but Denver needs someone who can at least scare opposing defenses. We’ve seen in the second-round series how hard it is to create efficient offense without someone who can get into the paint.

Making this even more difficult is the lack of cap flexibility Denver has. With $126.89 million in the books already for next season and Paul Millsap’s $10 million the only major expiring contract, there’s not enough wiggle room to make a splash in free agency.

By “splash”, I mean signing a big name. There are plenty of minimum-level guards who could come in and replicate Jamal’s role to the extent a minimum guy can (see Rivers, Austin).

That’s where Kelly Oubre Jr comes in. The Golden State Warriors wing just delivered an underwhelming season in San Francisco that ended with him sitting on the sidelines with a torn ligament in his wrist.

The 6-foot-7 wing theoretically fits in Golden State. He’s long, athletic, and can hit his threes at a decent clip, but after starting the season atrociously, making one out of 21 3-point attempts in December, things didn’t exactly gel with Oubre and the Warriors.

By the end of the season, he reverted to the mean, shooting 32 percent from behind the arc on 5.2 attempts a game. He averaged 15.4 points per contest, a drop from his 18.7 the season prior with the Phoenix Suns, but he also had less time with the ball in his hands.

Using’s tracking data, he took more shots without dribbling in Golden State and had the ball in his hands for shorter periods. That’s a product of playing in Golden State where his two-dribble then a decision style was needed less than in Phoenix.

His efficiency also took a hit as his 51.3 effective field goal percentage dipped to 50.1 percent in Golden State, a career-low since leaving Washington per Cleaning the Glass.

So, it comes as no surprise when Vincent Goodwill, Yahoo! Sports reports that the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, and New York Knicks are all interested in the wing ahead of this year’s free agency period.

Additionally, the Warriors would have to reach deep into their pockets to pay the tax bill it’d cost to re-sign Oubre.

Denver Nuggets: How would Kelly Oubre Jr fit on the court?

Kelly Oubre Jr gives the Denver Nuggets an answer to two of their problems: replacing Jamal Murray and needing a primary wing stopper.

The first part is simple, with Jamal sidelined, Kelly could step right into Denver, dominate more of the ball without Murray and find a few easy points every night by cutting around Nikola Jokic. On a side note, Jokic keeps so many wings gainfully employed by spoon-feeding them a handful of baskets through brilliant passing and simple cutting.

Kelly would get to showcase his offensive game, as he did in Phoenix, and would be asked to do more with the ball than in Golden State.

On the other end, the Denver Nuggets are craving perimeter defense after losing Gary Harris in the Aaron Gordon trade. The trade was the right decision since Gordon has been a great addition on both ends and gives them an option on bigger wings, but Harris’ guard defense is greatly missed.

These playoffs, the Nuggets were forced to hedge hard on Devin Booker’s pick-and-roll action to stop him from getting off-the-dribble threes, which has led to a bunch of wide-open Deandre Ayton


layups. A wing defender like Oubre, who can use his length to bother the smaller Booker and get fight over screens, would let Jokic sit in the paint and play his preferred drop coverage.

Even against Chris Paul, who has been ravaging the Nuggets drop coverage, Oubre would just be a better option than what the team has now and might force CP3 out of his patented snake dribble.

Oubre is not a fix-it-all defensive solution to these issues in the Suns series, but he’s a much better option than the defensively agnostic Rivers or smaller Facundo Campazzo.

Denver Nuggets: How could Kelly Oubre Jr end up on the roster?

If Kelly signals that he would want to play for the Denver Nuggets, the best option – without dipping into the luxury tax – would be a sign-and-trade.

The best player to include in this sign-and-trade is Will Barton. Barton has a player option worth $14.88 for the 2021-22 season which he will have to decide on by this coming offseason. At 30-years-old, it’s hard to see another team paying him more per season than that.

If he likes it in Denver, he might want to decline the option and sign a long-term deal worth more across the life of the contract and less annually. But if he goes that route, this gets icky with a potential Oubre sign-and-trade.

Golden State is paying an exorbitant amount in tax for their current roster with three max or near-max players (Steph, Klay, Dray) so they don’t have much flexibility to upgrade their roster.

By trading Kelly, who they acquired through the Andre Iguodala traded player exception (TPE), they essentially get to keep the TPE alive, keeping a non-minimum player, Will Barton, on their roster for free.

Denver signing-and-trading for Kelly Oubre and then re-signing Millsap could lead to the Nuggets dipping into the luxury tax (*draws a sign of the cross over my body*). The Nuggets haven’t stuck their toe in the luxury tax for… ever.

After the Aaron Gordon trade, ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported that ownership is willing to pay the luxury tax for this team at some point down the line:

"“The Nuggets have avoided the tax, but ownership is willing to pay it down the line for a contender, sources said. What they’d like to avoid is the dreaded repeater tax, sources said, but that is a long ways off.”"

With an MVP in Nikola Jokic, an explosive guard in Jamal Murray, an athletic forward in Aaron Gordon, and possibly their wing stopper of the future in Kelly Oubre Jr out there, maybe we’re a lot closer to “down the line” than we think. We’ll soon find out what ownership believes.

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