Corey Kispert exceeded Wizards' expectations in rookie year

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Kispert exceeded Wizards' expectations in rookie year originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON -- Though Corey Kispert was a four-year college player and filled an area of need for the Wizards with his 3-point shooting, team president Tommy Sheppard said he didn't expect much from the 2021 15th overall pick in his rookie season.

The Wizards entered training camp with considerable depth at Kispert's position and there just didn't seem to be a clear path for him to earn playing time.

"A big aha moment for us, we were sizing Corey Kispert up for Go-Go jerseys in camp and were wondering if we could get him minutes this year. He ends up starting for us and did a hell of a job," Sheppard said.

Kispert, 23, wouldn't have been the first Wizards first-round draft pick to play in the G-League, but it's been a few years. Troy Brown Jr., their 2018 selection, spent some time with the Go-Go. Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija, their 2019 and 2020 first round picks, have stayed afloat in the NBA.

But this past season, the Wizards were hoping to have a deeper roster than they have had in previous years. When they opened the season, Kispert was behind a host of veterans on the depth chart including accomplished 3-point shooters like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Davis Bertans.

Bertans, however, struggled before being traded away at the deadline and Bradley Beal was lost for the season due to a wrist injury. Those two developments helped open the door for Kispert, who played 77 games for the Wizards and started in 36 of them. Once Beal went down, Kispert took his place as the starting two-guard.

Kispert's final numbers for his rookie season do not reflect the improvement he made down the stretch when he was starting. For the year, he averaged 8.2 points and shot 35% from three, but over his last 28 games he averaged 11.8 points while shooting 38.2% from long range.

Along the way, Kispert set a Wizards franchise record for total threes in a rookie season (he ended up with 112) and tied the most for a rookie in a single game (six). Both records were previously held by Beal, putting Kispert in good company.

"He set some rookie records here. I think he's got a great future," Sheppard said. "He's more than just a shooter and a floor-spacer and that's our challenge to him is to come back better."

One of the most remarkable parts of Kispert's rookie season is the trajectory of his shooting percentage. He raised his field goal percentage every single month from October (33.3%) to April (52%), leveling out at 45.5% on the year.

Kispert has admitted frustration with how his rookie season began, but now that it's over he is pleased with the progress he made after adjusting to the NBA.

"I'm proud to say that I made some huge strides this year that I'm really proud of," Kispert said. "Not everything went my way this year, but I overcame struggles and pushed myself. I'm super happy with the year I put together and I can't wait to capitalize on it and make it better next year."

Now that Kispert has laid a foundation, he should factor into an important role for the Wizards next season. While Kispert helped them improve from 3-point range late in the season, they still finished the year with the fewest made threes of any team in the league.

The Wizards need to improve their 3-point shooting and Kispert will be counted among their best shooters. They want to shoot and make more threes and Kispert will be relied on to help that cause.

Kispert seems ready to take ownership of those efforts and make sure the Wizards shoot better from three moving forward.

"I think we had some periods of time where we were really struggling from behind the arc and I was a part of that. As a guy who shoots predominantly for his job, I struggled with that," he said.

"The challenge was to not get frustrated. We had ebbs and flows just like every other team did, but I was kind of surprised that as a group and including myself we weren't all that consistent from behind the arc. We definitely should have been."

Kispert said he plans to work on his mobility and flexibility this offseason. He may not play for the Wizards' Las Vegas Summer League team, according to Sheppard, but is expected to be part of their pre-Vegas camp.

Kispert steadily improved throughout his rookie season, now he gets a full summer to work on his craft and come back better in Year 2.