Culture of Hoops

Sonny’s Top 50 NBA Players: #36 Kyle Korver

Screen capture courtesy of the NBA/YouTube.

Screen capture courtesy of the NBA/YouTube.

Resume: 12.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 221 three pointers made (3rd in league), 32.2 minutes, 49% FG, 49% 3PT (1st in league), 90% FT … Team Record in Games Played: 58-17 (2-5 without) … Playoffs: 11.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.4 steals (career best), 1.1 blocks (career best), 39% FG, 36% 3PT, 81% FT, 8-6 record (0-2 without) … All-Star

Kyle Korver isn’t the typical NBA star. He doesn’t look like one or carry himself like one. He definitely doesn’t play like one, and by that I mean he rarely, if ever, “creates a shot for himself” in the most traditional and literal sense of that phrase. Korver, though, is a star, and it took me longer to realize that than it should have. Then again, I’m probably not alone here.

Until this year, when the Atlanta Hawks steamrolled through the Eastern Conference for the first three-fourths of the regular season, Korver was probably never given all of the credit he deserved. He has been a constant in any “best shooter alive” conversation for the last decade, but so have a bunch of other specialists who never would sniff the Top 50 Countdown or make an All-Star Team, like Korver did this year. It took a historically great individual season from Korver and a franchise record 60-win regular season from the Hawks for Korver to get the universal recognition he’s deserved for quite some time now.

Without the Hawks, Korver probably isn’t ranked in the top 50. But without Korver, the Hawks definitely don’t win 60 games. The marriage between Korver and Atlanta is the epitome of a mutually beneficial relationship between player and team/teammates/coach/scheme. Korver’s skills are brilliantly exploited, as are the skills of his teammates and the brain of his head coach.

Korver probably benefited more from Mike Budenholzer’s scheme than any of the other four guys he was on the floor with at any given time, but he also mastered his craft to a greater degree than any of them did. Korver is far and away the best in the world at what he does. Stephen Curry may hold the “Greatest Shooter Alive” championship belt, but that’s only because of his ability to hit contested long-range bombs off the dribble. The art of running a defender into a screen, peeling off said screen and then catching, squaring and releasing the shot in one fluid motion is something that Korver does better than anyone else on the planet.

That previous statement was written before any of these three stats were gathered:

1: Per, Korver had the highest Effective Field Goal Percentage of any player who took at least 100 shots coming off of a screen last season. He also had the second highest Effective Field Goal Percentage of any player who took at least 100 shots spotting up last year (only Klay Thompson was ahead of him).

2: During the 2014-15 campaign, Korver came closer to creating the 50/50/90 Club (50 percent from the field, 50 percent from three-point range, 90 percent from the free throw line) than anyone else ever has, posting ridiculous 49-49-90 shooting splits. This is borderline absurdity.

3: This one comes from Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry:

“During the regular season, the Clippers led the NBA by scoring 109.8 points per 100 possessions. The Hawks averaged 134 points per 100 possession any time Korver took a shot. In other words, whenever the Hawks just manage to get Korver a decent look, they immediately transform into an offensive juggernaut.” 

Korver’s impact isn’t exclusive just to when he shoots the ball. The Hawks offense is elevated simply because Korver is there. In a way, he makes an impact in a similar way that stars like LeBron James and Stephen Curry make. Life is made easier for teammates just because of their mere presence on the floor. Screens set by Horford or Millsap on the perimeter for Korver routinely lead to open mid-range jumpers or uncontested dunks for the two bigs because their defender AND Korver’s defender are trying to chase Korver away from a jumper. Jeff Teague and DeMarre Carroll got more open looks on the perimeter than they would have otherwise because defenses scramble to close out on Korver and Korver makes the heady extra pass.

In the Playoffs you could see that opposing defenses were doing more to take away the open looks Korver was accustomed to getting, only the rest of the Hawks didn’t come through when the ball was forced out of the hands of, or couldn’t get to, their most lethal weapon. Good defenses can do that, and as Goldsberry pointed out, they should do that. Korver is a machine and unquestionably one of the best shooters to ever live. And he’s one hell of a basketball player, even if he doesn’t look or play like most of the rest of them.

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