Most of us know of Kyle Korver as one of the league’s deadliest three-point shooters, whose lurking around the three-point arc sends opposing coaches into a shiver. Teams legitimately gameplan for this guy’s shooting talents, emphasizing to their players to fight through off-ball screens, close-out, and to keep track of him in transition. Of course, doing those things isn’t always a guarantee of success.
However, there is one part of Korver’s game that is, not only underrated, but often erroneously cited as a weakness: defense.
“It’s something I’ve worked on really hard, especially the last couple years in Chicago,” said Kyle, who highly praised Bulls coach Tom Thibideau. “I definitely think those two years helped, as far as fighting that perception.”
You might be scratching your head right now, recalling a highlight of someone like Kevin Durant absolutely working Kyle silly. While your memory isn’t deceiving you, there are still two problems with using that as an argument against Korver’s defense. One, KD makes everyone (even LeBron) look bad at times, and two, playing one-on-one isn’t the only part of defense.
“He may not be your DeShawn Stevenson type defender,” said Larry Drew when asked about the 10th-year vet out of Creighton. “But what he is: he’s a great team defender; he’s always in the right spots.”
This is something that can be easily overlooked because it doesn’t always show up in the box score. Being in the right spot, properly closing out on shooters, and being quick to switch or fight through screens: these are things that Kyle excels in on the defensive end, probably largely thanks to the fact that these things are needed when guarding a three-point shooter. Essentially, he’s learned how to perfectly guard… himself.
These were things that Kyle did well before he was in Atlanta. Now, though, Larry Drew has been able to effectively utilize another part to KK’s game.
“He’s done a good job of adapting our philosophy to our team,” said Korver of Drew. “He adapts to who we have on the floor. I think he’s done a great job of coming up with defensive gameplans, utilizing the assets that we do have on that end.”
For those of you unfamiliar with Larry Drew, one of the things that he always emphasizes on defense is having active hands; it’s one of the main reasons the Hawks have been near the top of the league in forcing turnovers the past two seasons. This is where Korver become lethal (yes, lethal) on defense.
Barring extenuating circumstances, Atlanta is likely to have Josh Smith, Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia, and Ivan Johnson taking turns patrolling the paint during a game. All four of these guys are good one-on-one defenders, especially in the post. Now, here’s where Kyle comes in.
Opposing teams will try to get in the post (namely on Smith, Horford, and Johnson) because they are undersized for their respective positions. (this is extremely short-sighted in its own right, but that’s not the point) Because the ATL guys usually hold up well in the post, opposing players usually have to take some time in getting their position and receiving the ball. When the opponent gets held up a bit, Kyle is able to swoop in on a double-team, and either force a turnover, block a shot attempt, or force a reset (all without fouling), frequently with the shot-clock already in single-digits. Since Korver is quick to get back to his original man, teams often cannot effectively use this tactic to create an open three-point shot. Not bad for an Ashton Kutcher look-alike.
Believe it or not, there are stats that are very approving of what Kyle is doing defensively. According to Basketball-Reference, the Hawks’ defensive-rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) improves by eight points when Korver is on the floor. (99.1 when on/106.7 off) That 99.1 when he is on the court is also a nearly four point improvement over Atlanta’s overall D-rating of 102.9.
For a comparison, the team’s defensive-rating when Josh Smith is on the court is 100.7.
Of course, here’s an “active hands” stat that will probably make Larry Drew smile: only five players this season have recorded at least three blocks and three steals in a game twice this season. Four of them aren’t that surprising: Thaddeus Young, Joakim Noah, Josh Smith, and Kevin Durant. The fifth guy? It’s not LeBron James; it’s Kyle Korver.
And finally, there are the ever-omniscient stats from MySynergySports. According to Synergy, Korver is only allowing 0.76 PPP (points per possession) on defense, which ranks 46th in the league. With there being over 400 guys in the entire league, placing in the top 50 should be a well-lauded achievement.
Back to Drew: “You need guys like that, that understand the whole team concept of defense.”
In the past, the Hawks had Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, two very good on-ball defenders with a reputation to match, playing in Korver’s spot. With Atlanta’s seemingly improved defense, you have to consider that Kyle’s knowledge of where to be on defense, combined with the skills of Smith and company, is a better match and formula for success.