Kyle Korver is finding his role in Cleveland
They call him the “American Eagle.” He flew high for 29 points on 6-of-6 three point shooting against Indiana on Wednesday night. He also has a giant tattoo of an eagle on the left side of his body. His name is Kyle Korver and he is “fitting in” with the Cavs, while simultaneously putting fear in the hearts of opponents.
When Cleveland traded for Kyle Korver it was called many things. A stopgap for J.R. Smith, another fleecing by David Griffin, even being floated as possibly the best trade of the year with weeks to go before the deadline. But for Griffin, flipping the low confidence Mike Dunleavy and dead-weight contract of Mo Williams for another rotation player is just all in a day’s work. Cleveland’s front office was responding to Golden State’s acquisition of former MVP Kevin Durant by acquiring a former All-Star of their own; though, just as Kevin Love has entertained doubters during the early part of his Cavs stint, so too did Korver in the early weeks of January. The harshest of those critics? Possibly Korver himself.
Korver said in an interview with ESPN’s Lisa Salters:
“I came in, and I was like, ‘Is this my fault?’ I come in, and we’re losing games.”
Korver’s impact in those first games was uninspiring at best, and detrimental at worst. Despite knowing otherwise, Korver, the 51st pick in the 2003 NBA draft, looked to be a product of the system in Atlanta. Even an 18-point performance against the Kings looked chippy at best, with most of Korver’s shots coming off of screen plays, rather than the open looks he was promised when coming to Cleveland.
By the end of his inaugural month as a Cavalier, Korver was left looking back at a 7-8 record. Korver personally struggled, seeming somewhat sluggish on defense, and producing high volume/low accuracy games one after the other (3-of-10 against Phoenix, 1-of-7 against OKC). To say he was the player Cleveland traded for would be a fallacy at best.
Kevin Love knows what it’s like to struggle and see criticism. His first three years in Cleveland have been marred with trade rumors, subtweets from teammates, and reports of general dysfunction around the locker-room. Half way through the 2016-2017 campaign, Love is making all of these pundits who predicted the end look foolish. That experience has helped him assist Korver on the adjustment.
In a postgame interview with FOX Sports Ohio, Love stated that he told Korver the same things that he learned joining a LeBron James-led team.
“We told him to be patient… [We told him] he’ll find his rhythm on this team, don’t feel like he has to make every shot” Love stated. For the team as a whole “[simplifying defensive schemes] helps to build trust especially when you’ve got a new guy.”
For Korver, more reps and a little patience has paid off. During the four-game road trip Cleveland just embarked upon, Korver has shot at a 62% from three. He’s averaged 18 points a game, all in 28 minutes a game off the bench. He’s finally found his role in the Cavaliers’ system, shooting 5-of-5 off of passes from LeBron James and 5-of-5 on uncontested three’s against Indiana. As Austin Carr mentioned in his broadcast, he told Korver that he just needs to wait for his shots, because on this team you’re going to find open looks. Korver has found these looks.
Cleveland forces defenses to bend to them. With LeBron James shooting 37% from three this season, defenders now must guard four out of the five starters from the three point line to the rim. The only help they can call would be off non-three point shooter, Tristan Thompson, and even then that defensive scheme doesn’t work with either Love at the five, or when Thompson’s backup Channing Frye comes on. This often leads to a scenario in which LeBron James is doubled, and a man is left open. These past few games, Korver has been that man.
Love called it the “swing swing.” A game plan pioneered by the mid-2000’s Spurs, perfected by the 2015-2016 Golden States Warriors, and applied by the 2016-2017 Cleveland Cavaliers. “Swing swing” takes the philosophy of passing up good shots for great ones, and applies it to an entire offensive scheme.
Planting three players on the wing and two near the paint creates a dynamic that Korver can feed off of. With a point guard at the key, wings pull into two different spots, one half way between the key and the corner, and another in the opposite corner. Each Cavaliers play runs with two passes, either a threat to challenge in the paint, or a seemingly wild three Cleveland has now become known for shooting. The second swing, however, goes from the charging or shooting player to the corner.
A player with vision like James can mix a basket charge in with a no look swing, more traditionally the swing just involves running a chain from one end of the three point arc to the other, disorienting and pulling guards in different directions, freeing up breathing room at the end. J.R. Smith brought unpredictability to the “swing swing”, sometimes taking the contested shot rather than making the second pass, but Korver brings a different flare to the sharpshooter position. Korver brings lethal accuracy and consistency to complement the wild nature of Smith.
Here’s LeBron James on Korver’s mindset, via ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.
“Glenn Robinson III was right in his face, and he still shot it? That’s just a sharpshooter right there.”
What he called ‘right in his face’ still was enough space for Korver. If LeBron James has the greatest macrovision, knowledge of the whole court at any given time, Korver is the master of micro. A master of his own domain, Korver notices fractions of an inch, his opponents’ breathing patterns, their stance, and grip. They say time slows down when a shooter takes his shot, the Tachy Psyche Effect, for Korver, that slowed perception of time is all he needs to judge the perfect shot and Indiana was only a case study.
Korver’s blend of professionalism, sharpshooting, and effectiveness not only kept him in the league, but carved a place for himself. Teams acquiring Korver don’t just acquire a three point shooter. Korver is more than a wing threat. Korver is a coach, a teammate, a shooter, a basketball player, a man. And now Korver is something else, a Cavalier, though there might be one more label Korver can visualize himself titled.