Kelly Oubre Jr. Is a Better Potential Replacement for Barnes Than Dillon Brooks

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE - NOVEMBER 04: Kelly Oubre Jr. #12 of the Charlotte Hornets goes to the basket against Dillon Brooks #24 of the Memphis Grizzlies during the game at FedExForum on November 04, 2022 in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)

For the last handful of weeks, with the offseason underway for the Sacramento Kings, one of the big topics centers around a guy whose reputation is widely considered abrasive by NBA fans.

With the prospect of possibly Harrison Barnes going elsewhere this summer, Dillon Brooks is a name that is brought up as a typical replacement.

As a member of the NBA All-Defensive Second Team following this season, Brooks would provide a dynamic effort on that end of the floor. Offensively, they’d lose a lot, but in the quest to improve upon a 48-win season, a lot of improvement has to be seen on the defensive side of the ball.

“Our net rating was in the 2 to 3 range. That’s going to have to improve,” Monte McNair stated two weeks ago at his end of season presser. “If we could somehow add to the number-one offense and get that to +5 or +6, great. I think, more likely, that comes from the defensive end just given where we were respectively on each end of the court.”

Bolstering the defense can be pivotal in improving the overall team.

However, the thing that makes the topic of a potential Dillon Brooks signing so buzz-worthy is the way he’s viewed by fans and opposing players. He’s called “Dillon the Villain” for good reason and for a team that benefitted from such strong chemistry all last season, fans wonder if he’d hinder it going forward.

In terms of how Brooks was viewed in the locker room, there isn’t a lot to go off of in terms of regarding guys souring on Brooks as a teammate.

Desmond Bane said recently that he and his teammates “all got a bunch of love for Dillon,” describing him as an undeniable “competitor” and hard worker.

But the reason why Bane and others are saying such things is that the Grizzlies have made clear they don’t want to bring Brooks back. While his teammates aren’t highlighting him as a negative presence, the organization does not see him as a positive one.

For one, reports suggest there was a huge chasm in how the team and Brooks himself view his role, where the wing is seeking more offensive opportunity, something the organization just does not see as remotely possible, especially after a year where he shot under 40% from the field.

More telling, though, was his decision to skip out on talking to the media after being eliminated by the Lakers in the first round, which was a series that Brooks did not impress all that many, least of all being LeBron James. 

If he’s going to be unrealistic about what his offensive role is and if he’s going to exhibit that kind of behavior after a loss, then there’s merit behind the wariness surrounding a potential acquisition of Brooks.

Still, adding to the defense in a manner that does not seriously disrupt the number-one offense is a priority. So why not skip over the idea of Brooks and go with a guy like Kelly Oubre Jr.?

While Oubre has never been on an all-defensive team and has been seen as an inconsistent performer on that end, he certainly has the tools to be an impact player in that department for the Kings. 

With a wingspan slightly over 7’2″, he was ninth in deflections per game at 3.2 and recorded 1.4 steals per game as an active disrupter. Plus, his athleticism has garnered him a lot of tough assignments throughout his career, including in his one season—albeit, one of his more forgettable ones—with the Warriors a few years back when Mike Brown was still on Steve Kerr’s staff.

In the summer of 2021, prior to signing with Charlotte, Oubre was asked what he was looking for in a team as a free agent.

“A highly emphasized defensive culture,” he told HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto then. “A championship-winning culture. Being able to emphasize turning defense into offense and team basketball. A spread open floor, size, versatility. Things like that.”

It could be that a reunion with Mike Brown at a more mature age for Oubre could result in an enhanced focus on the defensive end that could generate consistency and unlock the potential he indubitably has on that side of the ball. Having a more specific role could facilitate that.

Speaking of a refined role, that benefit would also apply to the offensive end. Oubre scored over 20 points per contest in 48 games, but in his time on the floor, his role became enhanced with injuries to teammates. His 17.1 field goal attempts per game were by far the most he’s ever averaged in his career and his usage rate was over 25%, in the ballpark of guys like Lauri Markkanen, Klay Thompson, and Desmond Bane. Having an offensive role that suits his skillset better would up his efficiency.

His outside shooting is probably the biggest red flag with a career 33% clip and a 32% clip last season, but even that can prospectively improve given the shooting talent he’d have around him in Sacramento, offering better opportunities. 

In addition to that, Harrison Barnes for reference only put up 4.3 attempts from deep this past season compared to Oubre’s 7.1, so at the same time as having juicier looks, it’s likely there would probably be less of a need to have them coming off of the latter’s fingertips. 

Also, compared to Dillon Brooks, the wide open three-pointers fell at just one percentage-point less.

And as for scoring from two-point range, Oubre has the edge, particularly in the restricted area (60.4% to Brooks’ 57.9%) as well as the mid-range (44.4% to 33.9%). Oubre would have an opportunity to generate shots off screens, handoffs, and cuts.

An added benefit is also his rebounding. At 5.2 per game last season with 1.4 coming from the offensive glass, which is far more substantial than Brooks’ 3.1 total per contest.

In so many ways, Kelly Oubre Jr. sounds like a better option, especially for those fans that are hesitant to welcome in a guy like Dillon Brooks.

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