Wizards Report Card: Grading Corey Kispert and Rui Hachimura

The Wizards season has come to an end, with the team officially finishing 10th in overall lottery odds. This conveys a 3 percent chance of landing the first overall pick and a 13.9% chance of picking within the top four. With youth on the mind, I decided to look back through the season and grade two of the ‘Baby Wiz’ (shoutout Ava Wallace) on their season, as well as give some thoughts as to what these players should look to work on in advance of next season. Look for more season grades to come next week!

Corey Kispert: B-

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Corey Kispert, Washington Wizards. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Wizards rookie Corey Kispert had a solid debut season for Washington, blossoming especially after Bradley Beal went down with a wrist injury Jan. 29 in a game against the Memphis Grizzlies, leaving a hole at the SG spot in the starting lineup. The Wizards drafted Kispert to be a shooter, and would be ecstatic if he can become a player like the Miami Heat’s Duncan Robinson — a no-hesitation shooter off both the catch and off dribble-handoffs, helping to consistently space the floor for the team’s on-ball offensive weapons like Beal who need room to operate closer to the basket.

While Kispert had a slow start to the season in terms of his shooting, he picked it up as the season went on, shooting 39.4 percent from three in the month of March on a season-high 6.2 attempts per game, according to NBA.com. Many first-year NBA players (shooters in particular) struggle to adjust to the extended NBA three-point line and different ball type, which gives Wizards fans reason for optimism. Kispert shot 43.8 percent and 44.0 percent from deep in his junior and senior seasons respectively.

Following a 123-115 win over the Warriors Mar. 27, Kispert talked about shooting struggles earlier in the year, and what getting more comfortable shooting in the NBA has done to help open back up his game outside of just shooting threes.

“It sucked to not shoot it well to start,” Kispert said after the game. “Getting back into my rhythm and finding the bottom of the net more often now makes me feel really good, and I’m able to do stuff on top of that too to keep the defense honest,” Kispert said.

Kispert also flourished in the starting lineup versus coming off the bench, an indicator that when Kispert is on the floor with better players, he gets much better looks at the basket. Should Bradley Beal return next season alongside the full complement of offensive weapons the Wizards now have on the roster, Kispert should be the beneficiary of many more open shots as the defense keys in on Beal, Porzingis and Kuzma. He also shot considerably higher on the season from the corners (42.6 percent), something to keep in mind next season when designing how an offense with both Kristaps Porzingis and Bradley Beal might operate in terms of spacing.

One great thing about Kispert is that, unlike his predecessor Davis Bertans, he appears to have characteristics in addition to his shooting that will help keep him on the floor. In his first season following a four-year stint at Gonzaga, Kispert has shown an ability to attack closeouts off the catch and get into the paint either off one-dribble pull-ups or a floater. Anecdotally, we did see Kispert’s floater get him in trouble earlier on in the season, committing some charging fouls due to his tendency to take his forward momentum into the shot-blocker, rather than stopping in the lane.

According to Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard, the refined qualities of Kispert’s game, as well as the loss of Bradley Beal midway through the season, allowed him get valuable experience this season as a starter.

“A big ‘Aha’ moment for us, we were sizing Corey Kispert up for Go-Go jerseys in camp and wondering if we could get him minutes this year, and then he ends up starting for us and did a hell of a job,” Sheppard told reporters in his end-of-season press conference April 22. “I think he’s more than just a three-point shooter and a floor spacer.”

He has also shown competency, though not expertise, on defense — an area the Wizards desperately need to improve on for next season. He hasn’t shown the flashes of potential to be a defensive stopper that fellow Wizards FRP Deni Avdija has, but he tries. And on this roster, that matters.

“I think he’s more than just a three-point shooter and a floor spacer.” – Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard on Corey Kispert April 22.

Kispert flashed some sneaky athleticism crashing the boards this season, and also finished the season with 12 dunks according to Basketball-Reference — something Wizards fans wanted to see Kispert continue to do this season. When asked what his plans for the offseason were, Kispert mentioned improving his flexibility as a top priority.

Despite the late-season improvement in his shooting, Kispert finished the season with a three-point percentage of only 35 percent. For a four-year college player who was drafted to be a lights-out shooter and contribute immediately, that efficiency isn’t good enough. At least not yet. Alongside Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kispert is one of only a few Wizards players with the green light to shoot whenever the ball finds him. Though Kispert’s steady improvement over his first NBA season is a good sign, the organization will look to him to shoot the ball at an elite level much more consistently next season in order to complement Washington’s core.

 

Rui Hachimura: B

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Rui Hachimura, Washington Wizards. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Rui’s season has been a really interesting one, especially for those who have followed his progress as a player closely since he was drafted by the Wizards in 2019. As the saying goes, the best ability is availability, and basketball fans everywhere were glad to see Hachimura suiting back up this season after some time off for his mental health. That said, I think most Wizards fans (reasonably) expected Hachimura’s play would take a dip following his return, an expectation which Hachimura confounded with his improved shooting and aggression throughout the duration of his shortened season.

Hachimura’s most notable progress this season was in the three-point shooting department, where he has blossomed into one of the best shooters in the league at his position. While he didn’t shoot a high enough volume from three to qualify for the league’s three-point percentage leaderboard (the NBA’s statistical minimum is 82 made three-pointers in a season), his 44.7 percent would make him the second-highest percentage shooter in the league this season behind Clippers sharpshooter Luke Kennard. Though admittedly looking at a comparatively small sample size (55-123 compared to Kennard’s 190-423), Hachimura has become a legitimate “assume the ball is going in when he shoots” sort of player this season, especially on wide-open shots. It can’t be overstated how important Hachimura’s shooting could be to winning games next season, especially considering that the Wizards shot an abysmal 34.2 percent from three as a team during the 2021-22 campaign.

That sentiment is shared by Sheppard, who wants to see the team expand their offensive repertoire to include a lot more three-point shooting, beginning with Hachimura.

“To have another floor-spacer, another three-point threat is tremendous for what we’re trying to do. We need to shoot more threes next year, we need to make more threes next year,” Sheppard said. “With Rui, I think he’s a great blend player. I think his defense will be much improved next year.”

Historically, Rui’s shot diet has included a heaping serving of mid-range shots, usually facing up from the elbow or nail and either shooting a turnaround or pump-faking and attacking the rim (unfortunately, it’s usually the former…). But this season, three-pointers made up nearly a third of his total shot selection at 32.9 percent, compared to 16 percent and 21.1 percent his first and second seasons, respectively, according to Basketball-Reference. The stats don’t tell the full story, either. If you watch him play, Rui wants to shoot the ball from three, often putting his hands up and calling for the pass when defenders are cheating off of him on drives, which is a great sign.

“I think his defense will be much improved next year.” – Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard on Hachimura’s development April 22.

Rui has been particularly hot from the right wing and corner this season, shooting 50 percent and 52.6 percent on 20-of-40 and 10-19 from those spots, according to his StatMuse shot chart.

Another aspect that bears mentioning is Rui’s aggression and finishing ability at the rim. Hachimura made an impressive 84.1 percent of the shots he attempted from within 0-3 feet of the rim, meaning that he is finishing much more consistently at the cup than in previous seasons, where he scored 68.4 percent and 74.8 percent between 0-3 feet of the rim in his first two years in the league according to Basketball-Reference.

Defensively, however, Hachimura is still a project and is looking like he might always be. Former Wizards head coach Scott Brooks used to tout Hachimura’s defensive versatility during his tenure, and former teammate Russell Westbrook was quoted as saying Rui was “the only guy on our team that can guard 1 through 5.” But Rui might be an example of how physical attributes are not everything on defense. He often looks lost playing help defense, either over-helping and leaving a shooter open in the corner, or leaving his teammate to guard 1-on-1 — a problem for Rui since he entered the league.

While the improved three-point shooting has been nothing short of a revelation for Hachimura, the fact that he is now heading into his fourth year as an NBA player muddles the excitement somewhat. If Hachimura can make this big of a leap in one aspect of his game three years into his career, is a similar leap on defense conceivable? Who knows, but it’s encouraging. If Rui can take meaningful steps towards becoming a plus, or even average defender in the coming season (a contract year for him), alongside his improved shooting splits, he will instantly become a winning player for the Wizards.