Washington Wizards: Drafting Corey Kispert at #15 was a reach

Washington Wizards Corey Kispert. (Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images)
Washington Wizards Corey Kispert. (Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images) /
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The Washington Wizards got their guy with the 15th overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, selecting Corey Kispert out of Gonzaga.

"“The fact that he was there at 10, [we] started looking around to see what we needed to do to move up. We decided this would be a great opportunity, we’ll sit still. And there he was.” – Tommy Sheppard at the post-draft media availability"

The 22-year old comes with high regard. As a featured member on one of the best college basketball teams in history, Kispert was projected to land somewhere in the low-teens in the mock drafts. He’s widely considered the best marksman in the class, with Sheppard echoing these sentiments, saying “his elite superpower is shooting.”

The numbers back it up. Corey Kispert shot 40.8 percent from deep (on 662 attempts) during his four years at Spokane, including 43.9 percent combined as a junior and senior. He also made 82.4 percent of his free throws. In theory, Kispert is a perfect addition to contribute right away for a Washington Wizards team that desperately could have used his services in 2020-21. However, I’m a bit bearish on this selection, both in the immediate and long-term future. Here’s why:

The percentages oversell Corey Kispert’s shooting ability.

Let’s be clear: Corey Kispert is a capital-G great shooter. Thanks to a lightning-quick release and masterful self-organizing skills, he’s going to be an elite catch-and-shoot guy from the jump. He and Jalen Suggs had a telepathic connection for trailer threes — where Kispert’s range is limitless. The threat of Corey Kispert lives in opponents’ heads (akin to Davis Bertans, even during a down year), and Gonzaga feasted off that attention all season long.

But all of this is with his feet set.

Kispert was far less proficient shooting on the move at Gonzaga. He routinely passed up promising opportunities and didn’t showcase any side-steps or step-backs in his arsenal. Defenders scooted under screens without repercussion. Was it due to the team’s ability to generate easy buckets at will (keep the machine churning — like how the prime Warriors always ranked below-average in free throw rate), or was it the fact that Corey Kispert is not a particularly versatile shooter?

I believe it’s the latter. First off, Kispert’s mechanics — mainly uses the hop (instead of the 1-2 step) and doesn’t have much arc — aren’t as functional in these situations. Watch here as he tries the 1-2 after a dribble hand-off, and 6’2″ Sedrick Altman somehow tips it despite going under. The few times Kispert tried expanding his horizons, it didn’t inspire much hope. That doesn’t mean that he’s just a stationary shooter; he’s adept at relocating around the perimeter through well-timed shakes and cuts within the flow of the offense. But Kispert hasn’t demonstrated the well-roundedness to his jumper that you’d expect given his reputation.

Unfortunately, these skills are becoming more and more essential in the NBA. Defenses are too rangy and sophisticated, with a pronounced focus on running players off the arc. From 2014 to 2019, over half (50.6 percent) of three-pointers across the NBA were classified as “wide open” (at least six feet away from the closest defender) per Second Spectrum. Since then, that number is 47.4 percent.

Not only are opposing teams eliminating cleaner looks, but players are now emboldened to fire away in increasingly tight windows. Just look at how minuscule these pockets are for Duncan Robinson, the current gold standard for movement shooters. This is where the guys of Kispert’s ilk separate themselves these days — think about how much value Robinson provides to the Heat simply because he attempts more shots than everyone else. It’s why Bertans (over 25 percent of his threes classified as “tightly” contested) signs for John Wall’s original max-contract money while Doug McDermott (around 10 percent) gets the mid-level, despite similar career percentages. Heck, even Jae Crowder has a mean side-step in his bag now. It’s concerning that a 22-year-old Corey Kispert — whose bread and butter is three-point shooting — appears relatively underdeveloped here.