The Kyle Korver Three-Pointer: A Religious Experience

A borderline embarrassing expression of emotion regarding the five seconds it takes for Kyle Korver to get open and hit a three.

There are certain inevitabilities in life: sunrise, the turning of the calendar, the moment when you're walking down a hallway and there's another person coming the other direction and you do the side-to-side "oops" dance of staying in each other's way, avoiding sitting in silence at a family holiday party because you know someone is going to say something racist or sexist if you start talking, the tides, and countless other time-based things.

In what should be the twilight of an NBA career, another inevitability needs to be properly appreciated. The Kyle Korver three-pointer.

Kyle Korver will be 37 years-old before this season ends. He will go down in history as one of the greatest three-point shooters in NBA history, and with good reason. Some highlights:

  • Highest three-point percentage in a season in NBA history - a staggering 53.6% in the 2009-2010 season
  • 7th in NBA history in three-point percentage in a career - currently 43.1%
  • One of two players in NBA history to lead the league in three-point percentage in back-to-back seasons (Jason Kapono is the other)
  • The only player to lead NBA in three-point percentage more than twice - he's done it four times
  • Has failed to shoot 40% on three-pointers in just two seasons since the summer of 2004. One of those times he shot 39.8%
  • Has led the NBA in three-point percentage three out of the past four seasons

The man is incredible. In an era when three-point shooters are becoming more and more prevalent, he has remained the gold standard. But this isn't about his ability, per se. It's about the moment it happens.

Kyle Korver is a master of moving without the ball. He's like a less athletic Steph Curry or Rip Hamilton (the first player that I vividly remember flying around screens, albeit for a lot of 14 footers instead of 23 footers), but every bit as meticulous and every bit as effective. And don't worry, there will be videos at the end of this. The payoff will be worth it.

The Setup

There's a moment in countless Korver possessions when he is near the left corner as the ball crosses halfcourt. He's facing the ball, setting up his man. His defender knows exactly what's coming, and thus digs in. As the defender digs in, which usually includes almost hugging Korver, the shooter begins to push back and begin a move toward the top of the key. Almost always, Korver comes toward the ball instead of fading away (Synergy Sports says he's finished possessions off screens to the right 83 times this year vs. 17 times to his left). It seems that this would limit his potential for success, as it's relatively predictable, but if you take a look at the bullet points above, it truly doesn't matter if you've figured out his plan.

(On some occasions, rather than starting in the left corner, Korver will come from the right side and go through stagger-screens. This will be shown at the end of the article.)

As the ball moves into the frontcourt, or whenever the nominal point guard decides it's time to start the action, Korver pushes hard into the defender and heads for the top of the key. This is the first sign of trouble for the opponent because it means a play is being run for Korver, an all-time great shooter. Korver is stepping toward a screener - sometimes two of them - at the left wing, and he's brilliant at creating space. He may simply run around the screen, he may cut between the screener and his defender, or he may get tangled in the screen and loop around them in a circle to free up space and try again.

The Inevitability

Once he's created that space, Korver is on a short-scale sprint toward the ball-handler, who has typically drifted toward the right wing (the ball-handler is usually LeBron James, for what it's worth). This is the moment of inevitability. This season, Kyle Korver is in the 99th percentile in the NBA in half-court scoring efficiency. He scores 1.276 points per possessions in the half-court on over 200 possessions in 29 games. There are three players whose scoring rates are higher: Meyers Leonard, who has played in 11 games, Georgios Papagiannis, who has played in five games, and Nikola Mirotic, who has played in four games.

When coming off screens, Kyle Korver ranks 18th in the NBA in scoring efficiency (per Synergy, as with all rate/PPP stats), but out of the 17 guys ahead of him, none have even one-third as many attempts as Korver. He's also 4th most efficient player in the league at spotting up. Of the three players ahead of him, only one, Jose Calderon, has more than one-fourth the attempts.

But back to the moment. Korver is now sprinting at the ball-handler, arms outstretched, ready for the blink-of-an-eye body rotation to square up to the basket.

He catches the pass with the defender at full-sprint behind him. By the time he catches the pass, it's over. It doesn't look like much, but in one motion, he catches the pass, begins rotating his hips and shoulders, brings the ball up, and jumps. In many cases, he jumps before his feet are square and is turning his body in mid-air. By the time he's 6-8 inches off the ground, his shoulders have come square to the basket and the ball has found its spot just above his right eye. This is it.

As an opposing fan, your heart has already sunken into your stomach. This shot is going in. It has to. He only misses shots that are too long or too well-contested or that he had to hoist in a late shot-clock. This is his perfect situation: a screen, some space, moving toward the ball. It's going in.

As someone who rooted against Korver for years (not passionately, just as an opposing fan), this is the worst moment of the game. This guy who's not overly athletic, overly fast, overly intimidating, or overly anything - besides great at shooting - is burying you. Everyone knew it was coming, and yet here he is, about to release another perfect jumper. It's willed by the universe that this shot is going in. The preparation is too perfect, the execution is too perfect. The shot is too perfect.

As the ball floats toward the hoop, you know it's good. Somehow, despite the frenetic pace of the pre-shot action, the ball appears to be moving slower than when other players shoot. This doesn't make sense, but it's real. His shots are soft. The result is friendly rims...not that his shot tends to hit the rim. By about halfway home, Cavs players have already started celebrating or are at least heading back down the floor for defense.

The Aftermath

The net makes a perfect *swish* sound, and it's over. Korver has hit another three and the defense has to decide how to stop it the next time Cleveland tries. If the screener's defender jumps out, the screener slashes to the rim for an easy bucket. LeBron James and Kyle Korver have both tallied easy assists on this motion. If the defense tries to reload and do the same thing, the Cavs can run a 2nd screen or go with a dribble handoff for Korver, or they can just have the best player of the past 20 years plow to the rim.

It's art. The Kyle Korver three-pointer is a centerpiece for the "basketball as The Beautiful Game" argument. If you don't believe me, watch.

Here he is fighting through two screens, coming from the left wing. He had already made four threes in the quarter.

Here he is crossing the paint and clearing one screen to come open on the left wing.

He's unstoppable. I won't bog down this page with videos, so here are more links. Full Knicks game highlights. Korver hitting three threes in 45 seconds for the Hawks. A torching of the Pacers in early 2017. His absurd 2nd quarter against the Raptors in game 4 of the playoffs last year (including a classic case of the defense overplaying his three and leaving LeBron a dunk).

You get the idea.

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