Over the next month, GBB will be profiling various players the Memphis Grizzlies may target in the 2021 NBA Draft. This year we will be breaking it up in to three sections - five to likely trade up for, five potentially available right around pick #17 where Memphis is slotted to pick, and five that surely will be there or perhaps the Grizzlies could even trade back and still select.
The first we’ll examine in the “potentially available” category is Corey Kispert from Gonzaga.
COREY KISPERT, WING, UNIVERSITY OF GONZAGA
- 6’7”, 220 pounds (6’7” wingspan), 22-years-old, Shoreline, WA.
- Four seasons at Gonzaga—27.4 minutes per game, 11.6 points per game, 48.3% from the field, 40.8% from three, 82.4 % from free throw line, 4.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.7 steals.
- STATS OF STRENGTH: Three-point shooting (44% as a senior), PER (25.3), true shooting percentage (67%)
- STATS TO IMPROVE: Assist percentage (9.0%)
- ACCOLADES AND AWARDS: Consensus first-team All-American (2021), Julius Erving Award (2021), WCC Player of the Year (2021), 2× First-team All-WCC (2020, 2021), Academic All-American of the Year (2021)
- CURRENT BIG BOARD PLACEMENTS: 13th (ESPN), 13th (Tankathon), 9th (Athletic), 13th (Ringer), 15th (CBS Sports)
I’m going to make this simple right from the jump: Corey Kispert is the best shooter in the 2021 NBA Draft, and he far brings more than just pure shooting to the table. He’s a winner in every sense of the word; in college basketball where 20 wins is generally viewed as the barometer of success, he never won less than 30 games over four years at Gonzaga, and he was their best player for the last two years. He’s a savvy ball-handler, a high-IQ defender, and an absurdly efficient scorer from every area on the court.
The dude is a baller.
Unfortunately for him and his draft stock, “ageism”—a topic which I discussed at length last November—has continued to be a trend in prospect evaluation. NBA executives and talent evaluators usually prioritize younger, rawer talent with more perceived upside over more accomplished, but older players that they deem to be much closer to finished products. It was a significant factor in why the Grizzlies were able to get steals in Brandon Clarke, Desmond Bane, and Xavier Tillman in consecutive drafts, and it could be how they end up with Corey Kispert.
They are, of course, questions beyond his age and perceived lack of upside. His overall athleticism is questionable and leads one to wonder whether he can hold his own defensively in the pace-and-space NBA.
But as far as expected production is concerned, Corey Kispert is about as close to a sure thing that you’re ever going to find in an NBA Draft. He will not fail, and if he is available at 17, then the Grizzlies will probably not have to think about it for too long.
What He Does Well
There really isn’t much more to be said about Corey Kispert’s ability as a shooter. He ranked 6th in the nation as a senior in 3PT% (44%) on 6.5 attempts per game , and he was the only player in the top-8 of that category to have attempted at least 200 threes. Whether it was off-ball relocations, down screens, or just extremely deep heaves in spot-up situations, he stretched opposing defenses to their breaking point.
Incredible 32-point performance for Gonzaga sharpshooter Corey Kispert in a win over UVA. After knocking down 9-of-13 triples., Kispert is now shooting 52% from 3 and 79% from 2 on the season. Already knows how to play out of NBA-style actions. Shooting, size, feel. Plug & play. pic.twitter.com/qsI7jRqcuJ— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) December 27, 2020
As a pure shooter, he can be a potential game-breaker at any time when he gets hot, and that should translate to the next level considering how much the modern NBA is reliant upon three-point shooting and floor spacing. In this way, the Joe Harris comparisons seem relatively adequate.
However, where that comparison falls short is that Kispert was much more than a mere shooter in college and could be much more so in the NBA; you aren’t the best player on one of the best college basketball teams of all time if all you can do is shoot. He regularly displayed an ability not only attack closeouts like many other effective shooters, but also to penetrate and create as a secondary facilitator while also being a constant threat to pull up off the dribble. That along with his ability to cut and finish around the basket was why he shot 61% on two-pointers this past year.
To put that in perspective, Jonas Valanciunas and Xavier Tillman were the only Grizzlies who shot at least that percentage on twos last year.
Corey Kispert shows a great understanding of the importance of cutting and moving without the ball.— Backcourt Violation (@backcourtv) June 21, 2021
Knows how to keep moving whether it's creating a better angle for a 3 or attacking the basket#NBADraft pic.twitter.com/Eod7jMhdN9
Now Kispert isn’t going to be asked to be a consistent pick-and-roll ball-handler in the NBA, but how much his ability to create off the dribble and score from all three levels will determine whether he becomes a taller Joe Harris—which I think is closer to his floor—or *prepares the hot take cannon* something akin to Klay Thompson offensively. He won’t be anywhere near the defender that Thompson has been in the NBA (which I’ll touch on more in the improvement section), but he has an almost identical physical profile and was an objectively better shooter and overall more efficient scorer with similar production on a soundly better college basketball team.
Of course, just because their profiles are similar and Kispert was probably a better player in college doesn’t mean that he's going to end up being as good offensively as arguably the second best shooter ever. That’s just not the way it usually works. Klay was also a more naturally talented creator with the ball in his hands coming out of college, exhibited by the fact that he had a 25% assist percentage as compared to Kispert’s 9%, which seems a bit low considering the offensive talent with which he played.
Still, Kispert was a fantastic offensive player in college, and all of the the various nuances of his overall offensive game will enable him to thrive in the pace-and-space NBA. To say that he’s just a shooter is to both embrace a lazy stereotype and undersell what he can bring to an NBA team.
Where He Can Improve
Kispert was not a bad defensive player in college; in fact, he was a plus in some ways. He was 4th in defensive win shares (1.8) on a Gonzaga team that ranked 21st in the nation in defensive efficiency. He regularly displayed innate defensive instincts and generally proved to be an effective defender within the team’s defensive scheme.
Yet the vast majority of his games were played against WCC opponents, and questions still remain about how well he will be able to defend perimeter players in the NBA. He’s not a quick-twitch athlete by any stretch of the imagination, and he will have to work to improve his hips so that he can have adequate lateral quickness at the next level.
However, even if he ends up being a relative sieve defensively in the NBA (which I don’t think will be the case), what he brings as a shooter and offensively in general will more than outweigh any issues on the other end. After all, the Clippers and Sixers managed to hide 6’3” J.J. Redick on defense throughout the prime of his career, while Joe Harris and Duncan Robinson’s lack of defensive ability hasn’t hurt their ability to positively impact their teams.
Kispert has good size at 6’7”, 220 pounds and will be a high-IQ defender within a team’s defensive scheme. Those qualities alone will make him at least passable on defense even if he physically struggles a bit on that end to start his career.
The Fit With The Grizzlies and Verdict
In short, it’s perfect.
Imagine a lineup of Ja Morant-Desmond Bane-Corey Kispert-Jaren Jackson Jr.-Jonas Valanciunas. That amount of elite shooting and floor spacing next to Morant and Valanciunas would open up a world of possibilities both in the paint and on the perimeter that could empower the Grizzlies to become one of the best offensive teams in the NBA. And if you really want to get drunk with the power of the shooting possibilities, think of a Ja Morant-Desmond Bane-Dillon Brooks-Corey Kispert-Jaren Jackson Jr. lineup, which would not only be even more prolific from three but even better defensively while also giving Morant spacing and driving lanes that he’s never had before. That’s one way to help Morant grow from a borderline all-star into an MVP candidate.
Surrounding Ja Morant with shooters should be among the Grizzlies’ top priorities going forward, so why not give him the absolute best shooter in the draft that also happens to be one of the winningest players in the history of college basketball?
So if Kispert is on the board for the Grizzlies at 17, they probably shouldn’t have to even think about it, unless something extremely unexpected happens with some of the top prospects on their board (Moses Moody, Keon Johnson, etc.). The only argument that you could make against it is that the Grizzlies should be looking to take a home-run swing on a younger prospect with more perceived upside since they need to find their third star next to Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.
To be sure, he probably wouldn’t grow into the Grizzlies’ third star or even some version of Klay Thompson. But he almost absolutely will be a superb role player boasting an elite skill that happens to not only be an area of need for the Grizzlies, but also the most important one in the game today. And with the 17th pick, you could hardly expect to ever do better than that.
Corey Kispert is more than just a shooter, even if he is the best shooter in his class. And the Grizzlies should not fall victim to ageism like so many of their peers is he's available to them at 17, even if I think that he’s probably gone before then.