It was a sad state of affairs when Corey Kispert went down with an ankle injury against Incarnate Word over a week ago. Kispert, the freshman from the Seattle area, had quietly put together some of the best minutes out of anyone on the squad.
The Zags were off to a hot(ish) start, and although you couldn’t peg the success entirely on Kispert, his steady and unwavering presence was a big reason for success. Secondly, the three spot, which had been up in the air starting in the beginning of the season, was a bit up in the air whenever Kispert hit the bench. Zach Norvell and Rui Hachimura had each shown glimpses of greatness, but lacked the consistency required for the starting job.
Since Kispert went down with the ankle injury, which forced him to miss games against Creighton and Villanova, Norvell has been absolutely fantastic in his place. In the past three games, Norvell has averaged 21.3 points in 33 minutes per game. Most importantly, he has presented a raw level of aggression the Zags are sometimes missing in their guards.
The video isn’t even the top 10 worthy dunk against Washington I was hoping for. But whatever—the exclamation mark is there.
The interesting thing about Norvell’s recent ascendance is not much has changed about his game. His three point percentage dropped a bit thanks to a horrid shooting night against Washington, and it was 36 percent in the first seven. His overall field goal percentage has picked up a tad. He shot 48.9 percent in the first seven games and 52.7 percent in the last three.
The big difference in Norvell’s game has come from that aggressive nature. It looks like it has always been there all along, but since hitting the starting lineup, Norvell has challenged opposing defenses much more. In the first seven games, he took a total seven free throw attempts. In the last three, he has attempted 16.
Now, the question is whether or not that is enough to take the spot from Kispert. Kispert is averaging 9.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.1 assist per game. Most importantly, he does that while rarely turning the ball over. Kispert is the glue guy, the forever unspoken hero on the squad.
The playing style of Kispert and Norvell could not be any more different, and that is what makes this an interesting (the good kind) conundrum. Kispert brings those intangible stats to the floor, but it is his smart play that has him leading the starters in offensive rating.
Norvell, on the other hand, is a weird hybrid combo of Silas Melson’s aggressive takes combined with Josh Perkins propensity for shooting threes. Norvell is probably a bit better at finishing than Melson is, but he is nowhere near Perkin’s shooting ability (at the moment). His style of play, combined with the style of Melson and Perkins, becomes a bit redundant at that point.
Right now, the benefit of Norvell’s ascendance is the entire team’s gain. The coaching staff took Kispert’s ankle tweak very seriously. Kispert, after the injury, predicted he would be playing against Creighton two days later. The staff willingly put Kispert on the bench for two of the biggest games of the season. Ankle injuries have a nasty way of popping up repeatedly up in the year. Now that Norvell has demonstrated he is a reliable starter, the staff can take as long as they want bringing Kispert back to full strength. By then, maybe they will also determine Kispert works best as the sixth man off the bench. Or maybe not. Again, this is not a bad argument to have.