The Underappreciated Importance of Kyle Korver
The Cavs came to life in Saturday’s 116-86 win over the Boston Celtics, showing great improvement on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. While LeBron is always going to be the best player on the court for the Cavs, it is essential that the supporting cast play their part and make the best out of every opportunity given to them. Kyle Korver was one of the standout members of that supporting cast on Saturday, as he scored 14 points on 5-5 shooting, with four of the five shots from beyond the arc. It is no surprise that when Kyle Korver is on fire, the Cavs offense is noticeably more potent and difficult to defend. But just how dangerous are the Cavaliers when Korver makes his shots? These stats may surprise you.
Korver has been as great as always from the three-point line, and in the playoffs, he has made 46.8% of threes on 5.6 attempts per game. The Cavs are 8-1 in the playoffs when Korver makes over 40% of his threes, compared to 1-4 when he does not. 40% itself is an incredible percentage to hold and it is well above the league average, so the Cavs almost always lose when Korver is reduced to just a normal shooter. But on most nights, Korver’s shooting is beyond normal. In the eight games the Cavs have won where Korver shoots greater than 40% from deep, the Cavs have averaged 111.5 points. The lone loss was the embarrassing 121-87 defeat during Game 6 of the first round against the Pacers and 87 points per game is actually the average for the Cavs in the losses where Korver didn’t exceed 40%. Simply put, the Cavs rely on Korver to be superhuman from deep or else the offense crumbles and scoring 90 becomes a significant challenge.
While shooting efficiently is obviously going to be a main goal for Korver night in and night out, getting a decent handful of shot attempts is a difference maker. The Cavs are 5-0 when Korver attempts six or more long balls, resulting in a 4-5 record when Korver hoists five or less. Even more impressive is that the Cavs are a perfect 7-0 when Korver makes four or more threes, giving the Cavs a 29% winning percentage otherwise. The effect of Kyle Korver offensively is similar to that of JR Smith in previous seasons, as the Cavs often had blowout playoff wins when JR was shooting unconsciously. It makes sense that the Cavs are much more successful when Korver is making his shots, primarily due to the added attention Korver attracts when he is on the floor. There are very few players who are guarded as tightly as Korver, and thus Korver’s presence leads to more open looks for JR, George Hill and Jeff Green. While there is really no circumstance where Korver is left unguarded, Korver having an off night is the only way the rest of the Cavs offense faces the pressure to score on the perimeter.
By combining Korver’s field goal attempts and percentage, we get a shooting efficiency stat of .628, a significant increase from his career postseason average of .574. In comparison to other players around the league this postseason, Korver outshines the best shooters around; Steph Curry has a shooting efficiency of .618, Klay Thompson with .585, J.J. Redick with .569, and LeBron with .590. If Korver continues shooting at this pace during the playoffs, his argument for the Hall of Fame will be strengthened, especially if the Cavs can make it to the finals and win a game or two through some late-game heroics from Korver. Based on the stats above, Korver’s impact on the entire team may be just as important as his individual achievements to make the Hall of Fame.
The Cavs need to take note of Korver’s shot attempts and percentages throughout the rest of the postseason. Korver should be taking no less than five three-pointers a game and by the law of averages, he is bound to make two or three of those shots if he does shoot the minimum. If four made threes a game is indeed the magic number for a win, then the Cavs need to run the offense more through Korver and trust that LeBron will find him when he’s open. I think Korver is the second most important offensive weapon for the Cavs (behind LeBron, of course), overtaking Kevin Love who has been relatively quiet this postseason. Whether you agree with this placement or not, the Cavs absolutely need Korver to be at his best, or else we may see this season slip away in a few days.