Like his teammate Davis Bertans and so many 3-point shooters before him, Corey Kispert may find throughout his NBA career people who are surprised he can do other things. Is he more than a shooter? That's what will inevitably be asked.
For Kispert, though, one other skill has shown through to this point, one that became apparent during the Summer League and was highlighted by some evaluators in the predraft process. He is a capable cutter from the wing, which gives opposing defenses more reason to keep an eye on him, even when the ball is on the other side of the basket.
Kispert, who is entering his rookie season as the 15th overall pick, says it is a relatively recent development in his game.
"I molded that part of my game last year. We were a very spatially aware team at Gonzaga. We knew exactly where everybody was on the floor; when to cut, how to cut, the timing of it. We gelled so well as a team that cutting was a huge part of our offense and a huge part of the way I scored points. There is more space in the NBA and more gaps to cut in," Kispert said.
Because of the added space in the NBA that Kispert mentioned, which is due in part to there being so many capable outside shooters, there could be even more potential to make an impact cutting to the rim. But that also may take time, as it requires him being on the same page with his teammates, all of which are new.
Even Rui Hachimura, whom Kispert played with at Gonzaga, may have to adjust, as he left school before Kispert, says his cutting prowess began to shine through. Kispert explained that chemistry-building process.
"There’s definitely been some moments where I feel like I’m on top of guys or I’m taking away space from guys. I’m learning as much as they are. They’re learning about me and I’m learning about them. It’s just a patience thing, waiting it out and ironing out the kinks. We’ll be there soon enough. I definitely won’t stop cutting and I won’t stop trying to get in the mix and getting my nose in there," he said.
Kispert added he has been having ongoing conversations with his new teammates, particularly guards like Spencer Dinwiddie and Bradley Beal, to get on the same page. He needs to get a feel for when to cut, so that it doesn't clog driving lanes, and they need to gain a grasp of when he will take off so they can look for him.
Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr., though, is already seeing the potential for Kispert's cutting to be worked into the team's offensive scheme. He explained it as a way to draw "tags" from the opposing team, which are when a defender leaves his man, usually from the perimeter, to help in an instant.
"His shooting is one thing. That’s going to be a constant. Teams are going to guard him as a shooter because they know that’s just who he is and what he can do. But the cutting is just as impactful. Getting yourself up, that’s going to ignite tags... That cutting, that’s going to orchestrate tags and the minute that happens, somebody’s open," Unseld Jr. said.
Unseld Jr. rattled off the names of Wizards' shooters who could benefit, guys like Beal and Davis Bertans. If Kispert can draw their man away for even just a second or two, it could lead to an open three or a susceptible defender trying to recover who can be driven past.
Interestingly enough, cutting was a big part of the Wizards' offense before Unseld Jr. arrived this summer. They led the NBA in cuts per game last season (10.1) and points off cuts (13.0/g).
Raul Neto was the most efficient at 1.58 points per possession, though most of their cutting came from big men and Alex Len and Robin Lopez, two key contributors in that regard, are now gone. There's room for someone to fill the void and help Unseld Jr. install some of the principles that helped the Denver Nuggets, where he served as an assistant last year, rank eighth in cutting efficiency.
Kispert is just getting started in his NBA career. What he's showing Unseld Jr. and the Wizards in training camp essentially amounts to baseline testing for his development. But already, some skills are showing through, ones that Unseld Jr. believes he can work with.