Led by Kyle Korver, Hawks Wings Are Flying to Historically Unprecedented Heights


When looking for reasons to explain how the Atlanta Hawks have gotten off to a successful start to their season, most of the national ‘Look at these upstart Hawks’ news articles point to the balance of the near-All-Star-level of the players in the Hawks’ core: Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap, and Al Horford.

Other articles point to the Spurs-like approach on offense — sharing the ball in an offensive scheme installed by second-year head coach Mike Budenholzer. Budenholzer was a San Antonio assistant coach prior to coming to Atlanta.

Those two factors are undeniably inextricable from a third explanation. The Hawks are within a sniff of the Eastern Conference lead because their starting wings are shooting the living daylights out of the ball.

Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll are making a lot of shots.

Forever and ever, in basketball circles, the 50% mark has been a standard of excellent shooting. Any player who can make one out of every two shots is generally doing a fine job scoring efficiently.

If the same logic is applied to the three-point shot, a shooter who scores one out of every three times is also generally scoring at a great clip. And in The Era of the Three-Point Shot, a number of players and teams are producing from the three-point line at higher and more efficient levels.

But the starting wings for the Hawks are doing something historically unprecedented. They are taking a lot of three-point shots — and making nearly one out of every two of them.

The numbers

For the season, Korver, who already holds the NBA single-season record for three-point accuracy, has made 83 out of 154 shots (53.9%). And Carroll, who usually takes the more difficult defensive assignment from opponent’s wings, has risen to the level of Partner in Crime, coverting 42 of 101 such shots (41.6%).

Together, the duo is making an unthinkable 49% of their three-point shots this season.

That number means that through games played Dec. 24, the Hawks wings are shooting three-pointers better than every other team in the league. Excepting the Grizzlies swingmen, who have made 46.3% of their threes but converted only 38 of them total, the Hawks have only four peers in the 40% range, and only one of them, the Golden State Warriors, is over the 40.5% mark.

Carroll attributes a summer of hard work to his rising success levels.

“Coach always asks me to be a basketball player and that’s what I try to do. I try putting no limitations on myself.  I know this summer, I worked really hard on my offensive skills. Everybody was talking about last year about how I really couldn’t do offense. But I know. I believe in myself, and every time I step on the court I try to show it.

He then went on to refresh an old half-joke, half-truth from earlier in the season, where he mentioned trying to be a better shooter like Korver.

“I told you I wanted to be the African-American Kyle Korver,” Carroll quipped.  “So I’m still trying to accomplish that goal. I can go to 40% (on threes) and he can go to 50%, so I’ve just got to keep working on that.”

Beyond the shooting guard and small forward, though, the Hawks roll out a full lineup of five capable shooters at the start of each game. Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap have shot 36.8% and 35.0%, respectively, from three-point range.

Starting center Al Horford has tinkered with a three-point shot, and he has converted an impressive 50.0% of his two-point shots from 15 feet or longer. Covering the lineup with five shooters adds up to a team that spreads the floor and is extremely difficult to guard.

Somehow though, any talk of shooting begins and ends with Korver. When coach Brad Stevens and the Celtics visited Atlanta, Stevens noted that even though Korver was averaging 13 points per game at the time, “you have to game plan like he’ll score 30.”

And teams really do game plan for Korver. Witness any Hawks game and you’ll see the bodies committed to keeping track of him on defense. Why? Guarding him is a necessity. When a guy shoots over 50% on three-point attempts, on some hot-shooting nights, it might be that 12 shots and a few free throw attempts is enough to score 30.

Putting it all together, throw in the Hawks’ 21-7 record (which puts them on pace to win 60+ games) and there is really only one conclusion that can be reached.

This February, when folks from all corners of the NBA globe gather together in New York for the NBA All-Star Game, Kyle Korver deserves to be there with them.

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