By now, it should go without saying: don’t trust late season performances from young players on a bad team playing out the string. For Wizards fans, that should be early in the instruction manual. Or perhaps tattooed to inside of your eyelids.
I wrote about Johnny Davis recently and gave some reasons to maybe hope he’ll still be a useful NBA player — what he did late in the season not having a whole lot to do with it. That brings me to the other youngster whose late season “surge” the team has been promoting: Corey Kispert.
Over the last 10 games — the span the team has celebrated on social media — Kispert averaged 18.6 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game. He shot well: 44.2% on threes, had an effective field goal percentage of 64.1% and an offensive rating of 128 points produced per 100 individual possessions. He even ramped his usage rate to 18.0% vs. a full season average of 13.3%.
Should we just read our eyelid tattoos and ignore the uptick? Possibly. But every rule has its exceptions, and the yawning chasm of the offseason stretches into the horizon, so why not take a closer look?
Let’s start with a shift from per game stats to per 100 possessions. Per possession stats are a better tool for assessing a player’s performance because per game numbers can change with playing time or pace changes.
Kispert’s playing time over the last 10 games increased by more than four minutes per game, for example. And the team’s pace went from a slower than average 98.6 possessions per 48 minutes to a faster than average 100.5. Even if Kispert’s playing time had remained exactly the same, we’d expect his per game stats to increase slightly because of the two additional possessions per 48 minutes.
Last 10, Kispert averaged per 100 possessions 27.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists. Compare with season averages of 19.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists. He shot 44.2% on threes over the last 10 vs. 42.4% for the full season. His efg was almost identical — last 10 it was 64.1%; for the season: 63.7%.
Did the last 10 games provide any new information about Kispert? Probably not. I could assemble a not entirely intellectually dishonest argument that the last 10 showed he can bear more offensive burden.
On the other hand, we already knew about his shooting, which he maintained with a meatier shot diet. And while he took more shots with the team’s mainstays out, Kispert showed nothing in the way of playmaking for teammates. In fact, his assists dropped over the last 10 games.
His three-point shooting and overall shotmaking provides gravity that can help get teammates open looks. But, a) that effect was already in place with fewer shots, and b) playmaking is an important skill for an offensive creator.
Don’t read the forgoing as criticism — the point is that we already knew he could make shots and score efficiently. His on ball responsibility increased over the last 10, but that increase didn’t reveal a playmaking skill hidden by a different role.
Also on the list of attributes that didn’t show much difference: rebounding and defense. Kispert has done very little of either in his two seasons, and he continued not doing much of either over the last 10 games.
In the realm of observation that probably doesn’t mean much, but it’s interesting so I’ll mention it anyway: the team was slightly worse overall when Kispert was on the floor over the last 10 games. This is in keeping with the team’s performance throughout the season with/without him. Last season, they were about the same on offense and a bit worse on defense.
Moving on — one of the things that amuses me is how what gets promoted and discussed is often easily obtained numbers, often arbitrarily selected. The team chose to promote Kispert’s last 10 games, which were decent (a PPA of 122 — PPA is my all-around production metric. In PPA, 100 is average and higher is better).
When I ran Kispert’s performance EKG, I found four other 10-game stretches as good or better than the last 10. If we look at last five (Kispert’s PPA was 126), I find 15 five-game stretches as good or better.
It’s interesting how recency gains primacy. Kispert’s best five-game stretches were in November, and his best 10-game stretches were in March.
If the team really wanted to promote recent performance in a way that’s more meaningful than the last 10, they could have looked at the last 20 games. That’s a quarter of the season, and Kispert’s 118 20-game PPA to end the year was the best 20-game stretch of his career so far.
Red = full season PPA after each game
Gray = 5-game rolling PPA after each game
Blue = 10-game rolling PPA after each game
Pink = 20-game rolling PPA after each game
As you might expect from the roller coaster-like performance EKG, Kispert’s score in my consistency index was 111. In the consistency index, zero is perfectly consistent (the player would literally have to produce exactly the same thing every game without variation), and higher is less consistent.
This makes sense for a role-playing specialist like Kispert who does almost nothing besides shoot. When defenses forget about him, he can erupt into game-changing three-point binges. When defenders stay home — or teammates (or coaches) forget he exists — he gets fewer opportunities to take shots.
By the way, Kispert missed the first eight games of the season with an injury. When he returned to action, he shot 0-8 from three-point range in his first two games. Over the remainder the season, he shot 43.4% on threes. That would have moved him from 10th best three-point percentage to tied with Tyrese Maxey for fifth.
Probably the most encouraging thing about the last 10 games is that Kispert’s performance largely underscores what we already knew about him. He has his strengths, and they have real value in the NBA. Probably the least encouraging thing about the last 10 games: very little indication of skills kept under wraps by his role.
There was nothing wrong with Kispert’s last 10 games — he played pretty well. But there wasn’t much indication he’s primed to take on a bigger role. Rather, he seems well slotted as a reserve and spot starter whose superb shooting is strong enough to give him an average-ish impact on NBA games.
Whose performance EKG do you want to see next?
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