Towards the end of the third quarter in Sacramento’s Sleep Train Arena on Tuesday evening, the Atlanta Hawks were pushing out their lead towards an eventual 19-point cushion. Atlanta had begun to pick apart the Kings defense at will, with Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Paul Millsap all dominant in the first three quarters. With that in mind, were the Hawks supporting cast taking their foot off the gas? With the Kings allowed back into the game in the fourth, it’s probably safe to say they were, but Kyle Korver, for one, was pushing harder.
With 3:56 left in the quarter, Teague passed to Korver at the top of the perimeter, Korver looked up and found Paul Millsap out on the wing, before sprinting around the back of Millsap to receive the ball for the on-the-run three-pointer. As it found the net, Korver’s streak of 77 consecutive regular season games with a made three continued. Now only 12 games away from tying the record, a place in history beckons for the former Creighton Bluejay. What is it that makes Korver one of the best specialist shooters in NBA history though?
Finding Open Shots
Before looking at the finer details of Korver’s shooting stroke or percentages, there’s one basic skill a spot-up shooter needs to have to consistently and efficiently score the basketball. It’s all well and good making tough contested shots, but a shooter earns their money by finding open spots on the floor. This requires a high basketball IQ, teammates who can and are willing to pass, but most importantly incredible stamina.
The modern NBA shooting guard or small forward can expend so much of their energy running around screens and charging from one side of the court to another all to get that extra bit of distance between themselves and their defender. Much of this hard work can go unrewarded in a game, but when the shooter is finally found in space, that’s when shots are made.
The untold story behind Korver’s outstanding shooting is the quality and quantity of his work off the ball. The NBA’s new player tracking stats are already showing from a small sample size just how underrated Korver’s athletic ability is.
The 32-year-old ranks 14th in the league in total distance traveled (10.4 miles), 12th in distance traveled per game (2.6 miles) and 42nd in average speed per game (4.5 miles). Impressive numbers for a man who wouldn’t generally be associated with being one of the fastest or fittest players in the NBA.
So as a point of comparison, lets take John Wall as an example. Wall, nine years Korver’s junior, is a player regularly talked about for his speed and athleticism. Yet, he ranks two places below Korver in distance traveled per game at 14th and even more surprisingly, his average speed is 0.4 of a mile slower than Korver.
It’s not just Wall either, Tony Parker, another man noted for being a burner, ranks one place further below Wall at 15th in terms of distance per game, while only tracking at 0.1 of a mile quicker than Korver.
As surprising as those stats are, it’s precisely that running ability that allows Korver to stand out among the best shooters in the NBA today.
It’s a fairly natural thing for shooters to experience slumps from time to time. A player’s confidence can drop, they can be playing through injuries, or they can have problems with their stroke. Luckily for Korver he hasn’t had to deal with many problems like these throughout his previous 10 seasons in the NBA.
The California man has proven to be very durable, and only once has he dipped below 65 games played in a season. Ironically, that was in 2009-10 when Korver achieved his greatest ever shooting season in 52 games for the Jazz.
From season to season, Korver’s shooting remains constant and reliable both from inside and outside the arc. Consistency of that nature is rarely seen and Korver has achieved it with graft and hard work. Coming from a strong basketball background and a talented sports family, Korver is a student of the game.
From shooting left handed as a child, he has adjusted, tweaked and perfected the mechanics of his shooting motion. When you look at some of the streakiest and most inconsistent shooters in the league, you’ll often find that they have shooting strokes that are difficult to replicate time and again.
Lets look at Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith as examples. Both are players who occasionally get hot from long range, but more often than not their shots are more likely to clang against the front of the rim than find the bottom of the net. It’s not that either player has a particularly jerky or awkward technique, more that they choose to shoot with a high arcing trajectory.
These rainbow style style shots are simply harder to replicate like for like, and so, the results are inconsistent. Specialist shooters like Korver, Matt Bonner and Steve Novak all developed short, sharp and fluid motions which allow them to produce on a nightly basis.
For much of his career, Korver has been used as an impact player coming off the bench, something which has resulted in him being underrated for the contribution he has given. Yet history will reflect kindly on Korver. He already holds the all-time record for highest three-point percentage for a regular season at 53.6 percent from the 2009-10 season. And with every game, he creeps further and further up the ladder of great shooters.
On Sunday night against the Lakers, Korver moved to 27th on the all-time list of 3-pointers made. His 6-for-6 from downtown in Staples Center saw him overtake Baron Davis and close the gap on Dirk Nowitzki, the man directly above him, to only 12 3-point field goals.
Without doubt what’s most outstanding about Korver’s place on that list is the comparably efficient way he has reached such heights. Korver is the only player in the top 40 of three-pointers made who has played less than 20,000 minutes in the league, clocking in at just less than 18,500. On top of that, to rank the top 100 on that list, Korver comes in second only to Steve Nash in terms of his 3-point percentage. Korver stands at 42.1 percent, only marginally behind Nash’s mark of 42.8 percent.
In terms of the record most immediately in his sights, Korver will have the opportunity to tie Dennis Scott in third place with 3-pointers in 78 consecutive games against the Nuggets tonight. If he manages that, he can join Michael Adams in second place in the very next game against the Magic in Philips Arena on Saturday night.
Then only Dana Barros would stand in his way of history, with the opportunity for him to tie the record coming on November 27 against the Rockets, and a chance to beat it two days later against the Mavericks. Either way, Korver already has arguably the best streak of the bunch averaging 46.7 percent for his, versus Scott’s 42.7 percent, Adams’ 36.4 percent and Barros’ 44.2 percent.
When Korver signed a new four-year, $24 million contract with the Hawks this summer, many people voiced the opinion that the Hawks had overpaid. This is nonsense. When you consider that the NBA is a league where Gerald Wallace is paid $10.1 million a year and Kendrick Perkins gets $9.2 million a year, someone with the skill set and calming demeanor of Korver is a steal.
The Hawks would have been blown out in LA on Sunday night, if it wasn’t for Korver’s stunning lights out performance from deep and that’s what the money gets you. A way back into games you have no right to be in, and one of the greatest three-point shooters of all time.