Corey Kispert is headed to the nation’s capital.
The Edmonds native and former King’s High School star was selected by the Washington Wizards with the No. 15 overall pick in Thursday night’s NBA draft at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
It’s the realization of a childhood dream for Kispert, who kept elevating his game and surpassing the limits of what others thought he could achieve during his standout four-year college career with the perennial powerhouse Gonzaga Bulldogs.
“It’s just so much hard work — and so much failure and trying again, and failure and trying again, and sticking to it, and making gains slowly and surely,” Kispert said during a press conference shortly after being drafted.
“It’s been a long process, but every bit of it was worth it. So I’m really ecstatic. I’m over the moon about the way it turned out.”
Kispert is coming off a consensus first-team All-American senior year at Gonzaga. The 6-foot-7, 220-pound small forward averaged 18.6 points and 5.0 rebounds per game this past season, while helping the Zags reach the national championship game and finish 31-1.
Kispert was one of the best shooters in college basketball and gives Washington the type of 3-point threat it desperately needs. Kispert shot a scorching 44.0% from beyond the arc this year, which was tied for fifth in the nation. The Wizards shot just 35.1% from 3-point range this season, which was tied for 22nd out of 30 NBA teams.
“We knew he was the best shooter in the draft, and we’re really excited to get him,” Washington general manager Tommy Sheppard said in a press conference. “… He’s somebody that really makes us comfortable that we can reach our goal of increasing our 3-point shooting.”
The Wizards are coming off a 34-38 regular season in which they finished tied for eighth out of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference. They advanced to the playoffs through the NBA’s new play-in tournament, but fell to top-seeded Philadelphia in the first round.
In Washington, Kispert will be reunited with former Gonzaga teammate Rui Hachimura, who was drafted by the Wizards with the No. 9 overall pick in 2019. The two were teammates during Kispert’s first two seasons with the Zags. They both were starters together during the 2018-19 season, when they helped Gonzaga advance to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
“Rui’s my guy,” Kispert said. “I’ve spent a lot of really good time playing with Rui and developing a friendship with him. So to be able to … play with him professionally is really, really cool.”
Kispert was a poster child for year-to-year development at Gonzaga, where he increased his scoring average every year — from 6.7 points per game as a freshman, to 8.0 as a sophomore, to 13.9 as a junior, to 18.6 as a senior.
Following his junior season last year, Kispert entered the NBA draft pool and was reportedly expected to be a second-round pick. But after going through the pre-draft process and receiving feedback from teams, he decided to withdraw from the draft and return to Spokane for his senior season.
Kispert’s draft stock rose this past year as he continued to make strides in his game. He became one of the faces of college basketball and helped the Zags come within one win of being the sport’s first undefeated national champion since 1976.
“He is one of the most ready guys in this entire draft, because he’s gonna play the same role in the NBA that he played at Gonzaga,” ESPN NBA draft analyst Mike Schmitz said during the draft broadcast. “I mean, that was basically an NBA team (at Gonzaga), right? And his role was get out, run in transition, step into those transition 3s, shoot it on the move a little bit, be smart … and move the ball.
“Smart pick by the Wizards here,” he added.
One of Kispert’s biggest improvements this season was his increased effectiveness at driving and finishing near the basket. With an expanded offensive arsenal, his 2-point field-goal percentage surged from 51.7% as a junior to 62.8% as a senior.
“More than just a catch and shoot player in college, he’s also a strong decision-maker who is capable of scoring in the open floor or attacking closeouts,” ESPN NBA draft analyst Jonathan Givony wrote. “… He looks like one of the readiest players in the draft at (age) 22 and should be able to slide into a role immediately for the Wizards.”
One of the question marks surrounding Kispert’s NBA potential is his defense. However, ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said he thinks Kispert will be “just fine” defensively.
“He’s a solid defender,” Bilas said during the draft broadcast. “He doesn’t have tremendous lateral quickness. He’s not a blow-by athlete. But he’s disciplined and he’s smart.
“If you look at (elite NBA shooters) like Joe Harris or Kyle Korver, we had questions about them defensively coming out of college. But they’ve done just fine. And I think Kispert will do just fine.”
Schmitz also compared Kispert to Harris — the Brooklyn Nets shooting guard and former Chelan High School star who led the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage two of the past three seasons. Kispert even trained with Harris for a couple days in Chelan two summers ago.
“I think he is Joe Harris,” Schmitz said of Kispert. “That’s who he’s gonna be.”
Kispert joins a Wizards team that’s led by All-Star shooting guard Bradley Beal, who finished second in the NBA in scoring this past season at 31.3 points per game.
Washington shook up its roster Thursday with a blockbuster trade that reportedly will send former MVP point guard Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for a package including small forward Kyle Kuzma, center Montrezl Harrell and shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The Wizards also acquired guard Aaron Holiday in a deal with the Indiana Pacers.
“I think (Kispert) adds value to this roster,” Washington head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said in a press conference. “He’s gonna help us spatially. And I think there’s more layers to this kid (than shooting). He can play off the bounce, (and) I think he’s a better athlete than (people) give him credit for.”
During his decorated high school career, Kispert led King’s to three Class 1A state championship game appearances, including back-to-back titles as a sophomore and junior. A season-ending foot injury as a senior ended his quest for a three-peat.
Kispert, a four-star recruit in high school, chose Gonzaga over Virginia and Notre Dame.
Kispert is the third Snohomish County native to be selected in an NBA draft, according to Basketball-Reference.com. The other two were Edmonds native Martell Webster (No. 6 overall pick in 2005) and Snohomish native Jon Brockman (No. 38 pick in 2009).
“There was a lot of years in my life where I was told, ‘Don’t dream about playing in the NBA. It’s not realistic. Like, you know how many basketball players don’t play in the NBA? Like, c’mon Corey. Chill out. Be realistic,’” Kispert said during a phone interview earlier this month.
“To have (this) moment happen is a huge fulfillment of a ton of childhood dreams. But on the other hand, it’s just a new chapter of this long book. Nothing’s changing, and I’ve gotta work hard at it.”