Rookie first round pick Corey Kispert was in the starting lineup for the Wizards on Tuesday night as they opened the preseason against the Rockets in part because injuries paved the way and part because he has stood out so far during training camp, according to head coach Wes Unseld Jr.
The Wizards are dealing with a few absences at the forward position with Rui Hachimura (personal reasons), Deni Avdija (ankle) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (dental procedure) all out. Kispert, though, has caught the coach's eye since the Wizards opened camp last week.
"[Injuries] aside, Corey’s really had a great training camp," Unseld Jr. said. "I think it’s important to get some of your young guys minutes early. With only four preseason minutes, it’s somewhat compressed. Obviously, in past years you had more games to kind of introduce guys, whether in the beginning of the preseason or late in the preseason as you rested some of your veteran players. Right now, we just don’t have that flexibility, so we’ve gotta maximize those minutes."
Kispert, 22, may end up seeing more playing time in the preseason than he does when the regular season begins, as the Wizards have plenty of veteran depth at his position. But Unseld Jr. giving him the start is interesting beyond the fact Kispert has performed well during camp, as it is one of the first signs of Unseld Jr.'s player development philosophy.
Unseld Jr. came over from the Denver Nuggets, an organization that has a strong track record of getting the most out of their draft picks. They just had Nikola Jokic win the league's MVP award last season after selecting him in the second round.
Unseld Jr. sees the Wizards' four preseason games as pivotal for Kispert's early progress.
"I think it’s just great exposure for him. You can’t simulate game minutes in practice. You can do the drills, we can play live 5-on-5, but obviously we’re playing ourselves. So, to get a feel for how it will be in a regular season situation will be beneficial to him and give us a real look at what he can do," he said.
The Wizards selected Kispert 15th overall out of Gonzaga in July. He will square off with the No. 2 overall pick, Jalen Green, of the Rockets.