By the time of the 2021 NBA Draft, everyone knew Corey Kispert. Everyone knew his game. And everyone knew the kind of impact he could potentially have at the next level.
Kispert played four years in Spokane for Gonzaga, steadily improving each season. He went from playing around 20 minutes off the bench as a freshman to being the go-to perimeter scorer on a team that nearly went undefeated as a senior, losing in the national title game to Baylor. He was the 2020-21 WCC Player of the Year and a consensus All-American. He appeared in 137 games, logged 3755 minutes, scored 1586 points, hit 270 three-pointers and went 63-2 in conference play as a member of the Bulldogs (who could have used him last night, when they shot 38 percent from the field in a Sweet 16 loss to Arkansas). Point being: the 6-6 forward entered the ‘21 Draft with more experience and maturity than most prospects. He certainly wasn’t a question mark.
The Wizards selected him with the 15th overall pick and Kispert came in already looking and moving like he belonged. Here’s what Bradley Beal recently told The Athletic about him: “He was never like a rookie and like a deer in the headlights, like me coming into the League. He’s very mature. He has the experience. He played in college a few years, so he came in with the understanding of how to play the game.”
Yes, Kispert had that experience. Yes, he had that understanding of the game. Yes, he was “NBA ready.” But the 23-year-old didn’t get his opportunity right away. He played sparingly during the first few months of the season, averaging merely 12.5 minutes through October and November. He struggled to find his rhythm in the limited action. His shot wasn’t falling with the same consistency that it did at Gonzaga, where he hit 41 percent of his 4.8 three-point attempts per game.
According to teammates and coaches in Washington, the rookie just stayed the course. He was a professional, continuing to work and ensuring he was ready for his opportunity. It came right around Christmas, when Beal and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope tested positive for COVID-19. Kispert was inserted into the starting lineup on Dec. 23 for a matchup with the Knicks at Madison Square Garden and needed just seven shots to drop 20 points, helping the Wizards get a 124-117 win. He maintained a significant spot in the rotation from there, even as players returned from the League’s health and safety protocols.
Following the trade deadline, a lot more minutes opened up, particularly for Washington’s wings. Spencer Dinwiddie was sent to Dallas. Aaron Holiday was sent to Phoenix. Beal was sidelined due to a wrist injury. Kispert has started every game since Feb. 10 and quietly played very well, averaging 11.2 points and 3.2 rebounds while shooting 46 percent from the field and 38 percent from deep. He spaces the floor, drifts around the perimeter, launches open shots and slashes to the paint for easy layups. He never forces the action or looks to create offense that isn’t there. Of his 423 total field goal attempts so far this season, 389 have been from behind the arc (259) or within ten feet of the basket (130).
Beal praised Kispert’s overall feel for the game and recent development: “He just understands [the] timing of when to cut, when not to cut,” the three-time All-Star said, via The Athletic. “When guys penetrate, [he knows] how to seep into the open gap for shots. He’s always open, and I think his ability and his confidence to take those shots and knock them down as a rookie has been great. He’s just going to continue to get better. And I love the fact that he could put the ball on the floor. He’s athletic—sneaky athletic. He’ll dunk [on] you. He makes plays on the defensive end, too. So the sky’s the limit for him. I’m happy that he gets an opportunity, too, to be able to grow in the role.”
Grow in the role—that’s exactly what the former Bulldog has done. He posted 20 points and 6 assists against the Kings; 16 points and 2 steals in a win over Brooklyn; 21 points against the Lakers at Staples Center. He has scored in double figures in four of the last five games, beginning to knock down threes more consistently.
In other words, he is having the kind of impact that everyone knew he could potentially have at this level.