New York Knicks‘ most pressing need is a solid starting-caliber point guard. But it seems to be Leon Rose is sold that he can solve the Knicks’ point guard woes via free agency or trade (Hello, Dame Lillard!).
That’s the vibes we’re getting after New York coach Tom Thibodeau revealed last week that the Knicks are looking for wings and guys who can shoot in the Draft Combine in Chicago.
The Knicks have met with more than 20 prospects, and one of them perfectly fits the bill.
Enter Gonzaga’s sharpshooter Corey Kispert.
Kispert is one of the older guys in the Draft, but his floor is so high that he’s been mostly projected to be a lottery pick. His public Mock Draft ranges from as high No. 10 (ESPN & The Ringer) to as low as No. 22 (CBS). Bleacher Report pegs him at No. 14.
It’s not hard to see why there’s a lot of intrigue in Kispert despite being a senior prospect.
It’s going to be out of Thibodeau’s character to bring in four rookies next season, so there’s a league-wide belief that the Knicks will be looking to package their picks to trade up. If they missed out on James Bouknight, the 22-year old Kispert could be a solid option and would be ready to contribute right away.
Ever since the Golden State Warriors changed the game with their impeccable shooting during their dynasty in the middle of the past decade, teams have been looking out for the next Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Shooters have become a hot commodity with the past NBA Drafts yielding rising stars Trae Young and Tyler Herro, Cam Johnson, while unheralded players Duncan Robinson and Joe Harris shot their way into becoming key starters in playoff teams.
Kispert wants to be that next guy.
“The guy that has been the gold standard for me forever has been Klay Thompson,” Kispert said on a zoom call at the Draft Combine. “Whenever I don’t feel good about my game or have a bad night or whatever, I watch him score 60 on 12 dribbles. The way he plays the game, the way he impacts their team. You’ve seen how much they’ve missed him since he’s been out. I want to be as close to that as I can.”
Kispert sure looked like Thompson at Gonzaga. And he was a better shooter than Thompson in college. The Golden State gunner was a 39 percent shooter on 620 three-point attempts in his three years at Washington State. Kispert finished his college career at 40.8 percent on 662 three-point attempts.
But most experts believe his ceiling could be Harris.
“That’s the comparison that I’ve heard most often throughout this draft process. Joe and I are friends,” Kispert said.
In 2019, Kispert linked up with Harris through a mutual friend to study his shot preparation during the offseason.
“It’s an honor to be compared to a guy like him. The career that he’s made for himself from almost being done and out [of the league] to signing a big deal with Brooklyn. So I’m really happy to receive that comparison and honored. Hopefully, I can live up to it,” Kispert added.
Then last year, Kispert went through the Draft process before pulling out to return for one more year at Gonzaga. He made the right decision as his remarkable run with the Bulldogs made him a sure first-rounder.
“Last year was like a runway to my rookie season,” Kispert said. “I have been able to receive feedback from teams and took that advice to heart and was able to implement those things right away.”
Kispert parlayed that into a West Coast Conference Player of the Year run, averaging 18.6 points, 5.0 rebounds while shooting 52.9 percent from the field and 44.0 percent of his 3s on 6.5 attempts — all career-highs. He was one of the two biggest reasons why the Bulldogs went to the NCAA national championship undefeated. The other being Jalen Suggs, a projected top-four pick.
While they fell short in the NCAA Finals against Baylor, Kispert believes he can lean back to that experience in the next level.
“It helped me understand what it takes to win a game like that. I’ve never played in a national championship game before. We came out a little bit flat and it cost us the game. So being able to come out for a game like that with enough energy to take on Baylor would have been huge,” Kispert said. “Being in that kind of pressure situation — the Final Four and the national championship game — that’s gonna be able to translate directly to the [NBA] especially with the fans coming back in the arenas.”
What’s holding him back from cracking the Top 10 is his perceived lack of athleticism. Kispert can’t wait to prove his doubters wrong.
“I think I get pegged as the guy who people can take advantage of on defense. And for whatever reason, the guy who can’t run, who can’t jump, whatever. And the numbers I’ve had in the [Draft] Combine were a great start to prove people wrong, and I can’t wait to get on the floor to continue to do that,” Kispert said.
Measuring 6-6 on foot and 6-7.25 with shoes, Kispert has a decent size to defend guards and wings in the NBA. He looked athletic in the drills, posting a solid 3.12 sprint, 30-inch no-step vertical, and his 2.99 shuttle time was just 0.01 short of topping last week’s camp.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of pigeon-holing Kispert as a shooter. But he offers more than that.
“I’m best at catch-and-shoot, but I’ve grown my game so much off the dribble over the last two years,” he said. “I’ve watched films of myself during my freshman and sophomore years, and I barely recognize the player that I was out there. It’s a testament to how much I can improve in that time. I can’t wait to see how much I can improve from here on out. Definitely, I have to continue to work on putting the ball on the deck and make guys pay for closing out on me. That’s gonna be a consistent theme in the NBA as long as my career lasts.”
As one of the older guys in the Draft, Kispert exudes confidence and a great basketball IQ with experience as his teacher.
The secret to Kispert’s success from behind the arc is his quickness in setting up his shot. And when a defender collapses on him, he can punish him with quick off the dribble to glide to the basket. He shot 63 percent of his two-point attempts last season.
“It’s reading guys out of the corner of your eye. You look at the ball coming in; you could feel the defender. And it’s something that I’m really thankful to have thousands and thousands of reps doing, just being in games. That’s the kind of situation I find myself in a lot. Just continue to work on that and sharpen the tool that I have in my toolbox in every way I can.”
Kispert checks all the boxes for Thibodeau.
“There’s a great value in [character]. You try to measure their drive and intelligence and how players have improved over a period of time. And also if they have gotten through some adversity. You’d like to see that quality as well. There are a number of things you’re looking for,” Thibodeau said.
Kispert not only leans on his on-court improvement last season but, more so, the challenges off the court as a tool to navigate the NBA in his rookie year.
“I had a great year. I’ve grown a bunch as a person having navigated through COVID-19 and all the protocols and stuff we have to work with. It was not an easy task. And team-building with that kind of obstacle is tough,” Kispert said.
There will be plenty of rivals for the Knicks, as Kispert met with almost half of the league last week in Chicago. The long list includes the Boston Celtics, New Orleans Pelicans, San Antonio Spurs, Minnesota Timberwolves, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder, the Warriors, and Los Angeles teams.
In this pace-and-space era, Kispert is a can’t miss prospect. But his drive is what makes him special. There’s a case for him to come out of this class as one of the top 10 players.
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