The Phoenix Suns have steadied the ship after two home losses to the San Antonio Spurs, but coming back from their Eastern Conference road trip with a 2-1 record. The final game of that trip, a thrilling overtime win over the Chicago Bulls that never should have been that close, also saw the team get Bradley Beal back.
All that is missing now is to get franchise cornerstone Devin Booker back to full healthy, an objective that he has occasionally made harder for the organization with how badly he wants to be out there. All is good for the Suns at the moment then, with most of their role players doing exactly what they’re supposed to for this group.
If you look at the offseason acquisitions of one foe out East who recently beat the Suns though, you’ll see they missed a chance to add a valuable player.
That individual would be somebody who starred for the 76ers in their recent 112-100 win over the Suns, pouring in an impressive 25 points. The second most on the team on that night behind current league MVP Joel Embiid, who had 26 points. We are talking of course, about Kelly Oubre Jr.
The 27-year-old a tremendous pickup for the 76ers this summer, and who is currently putting up 17.4 points per night in just under 30 minutes of action. Oubre Jr. has four starts to his name already, and has been the kind of bucket getting forward/guard hybrid that has allowed the 76ers to absorb the loss of James Harden to the L.A. Clippers.
Oubre Jr. was a free agent this summer, and was signed by the 76ers for around $2.8 million on a one year deal. Not that anybody batted an eyelid at the time – here was a player who had played for the Suns in the past – and who not many fans had been too sad to see leave back in 2020.
A season with the Golden State Warriors followed, but it was a time in which that team didn’t even make the playoffs. In fact, Oubre Jr.’s only two appearances in the postseason came with the franchise that drafted him from 2016-18. The Washington Wizards, where he played alongside Beal.
To then go to the Charlotte Hornets and post a career high 20.3 points per game last season didn’t seem all that impressive. The thinking being that the Hornets were poor, and that maybe Oubre Jr. was destined to be a player who could put up nice numbers on a team that doesn’t end up going anywhere. How wrong we were.
Oubre Jr. looks extremely comfortable in the unique spot of being a step above a role player for the 76ers. He falls in line behind Embiid and Tyrese Maxey, and even Tobias Harris as well. But Oubre Jr. has started the season so hot (a career high 41.2 percent from deep), that 76ers head coach Nick Nurse is being forced to feature his shooting more and more, to great success.
Why this hurts for the Suns is because Oubre Jr. was there on a deal that was such a steal, and exactly the kind of price range they could have afforded this offseason. All of their role player additions were never going to pop the way the team wanted to, and right now Yuta Watanabe has struggled some relative to the expectations when the Suns signed him.
He’s making $2.3 million this season, while Bol Bol ($2 million), Chimezie Metu ($2 million) and Nassir Little ($6.2 million) would all be dropped in an instant if it meant getting this version of Oubre Jr. Imagine how good he could have been lining up beside Booker, Durant and Beal. If he thinks the spacing is good in Philadelphia, it would have been extraordinary in The Valley.
Oubre Jr. is a career 33.1 percent 3-point shooter, and in his last two seasons with the Hornets had taken over seven attempts per game. During that period, he shot a slightly better 33.5 percent from deep, but it would be fair to point out that this season may be an anomaly for a player who will want to get paid and have more security with a longer contract next season.
Then again, there’s no reason that once-off campaign couldn’t have happened while with the Suns, and this will go down as a missed opportunity for the organization to add a long and versatile offensive player who has put up points wherever he has gone. What could have been if they’d gone back to a player who had suited up for the Suns 96 times in the past.