Kyle Korver may be the greatest three-point shooter in NBA history, and it’s helping the Hawks


Jan 2, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) is fouled while shooting the ball by Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver (26) during the fourth quarter at EnergySolutions Arena. Atlanta Hawks won the game 98-92. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

In the summer of 2013, head coach Mike Budenholzer left the San Antonio Spurs to take over the reins of the Atlanta Hawks. Ever since, he has installed a motion-heavy, pass-patient offense that mirrors what the Spurs do in a lot of respects.

Add that to the fact that the Hawks start five team-centric players who flew under the radar of national exposure until this month’s exponential surge in the standings. None of them ever got into the business of trumpeting their own horn even as they spent big parts of their respective careers in almost-but-not-quite-All-Star territory.

Putting it all together as many basketball experts have (including LeBron James), and the logical conclusion is to call them ‘Spurs East’, an outpost of the outfit from San Antonio that has racked up five NBA titles.

Kevin Arnovitz describes it particularly well,

"One thing that often gets lost in the discussion about culture and chemistry — the system installed in Atlanta by way of San Antonio demands a strict selflessness. Break off from the sequence of actions in the half court and the stuff falls apart. Everyone on the floor devotes himself to the idea that if you stay in motion, the ball will work its way to the logical recipient before the shot clock expires."

After letting that idea soak around for a while, one might hear the counterpoint, “Sure, they’re the Spurs East, but they don’t have a (Tim) Duncan.” Fine. It’s true. Duncan is a historic big man talent, and as well as Al Horford has played recently, none of the Hawks bigs are primed to make an automatic Hall of Fame bid the way Duncan has.

But let’s flip that narrative for a second. Do the Hawks have anything the Spurs don’t have? My argument would be for Kyle Korver.

The great teams of the Spurs have had a number of fantastic shooters: Mario Elie, Bruce Bowen, Steve Kerr, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green.

But none of them, not even future Hall of Famer Ginobili, wreaked havoc on defenses 27 feet away from the basket — without even shooting the ball — the way that Korver does. (And before you send me the hate mail, this isn’t a claim that Korver is better than Ginobili. Just different, and better in this one crucial respect.)

In fact, the Hawks may have the best three-point shooter of all time as their shooting guard.

What does Korver do for himself?

No one has ever had the vaunted 50 FG%/50 3FG%/90 FT% season while taking enough shots of each type to qualify. Korver is on the verge of doing it, with a 49.6% FG% and a bit of room to spare on the other two categories..

His shot chart is beyond compare. It’s bonkers, bananas, and balderdash all rolled into one.

Korver already holds the record for three-point field goal percentage in a single season (53.6%, 2010). He led the league in three-point shooting last year (47.2%), and he’s second in the league this year with a 51.0% mark.

In terms of all-time ranks, he currently sits 8th on the all-time percentage list and 15th on the all-time number of three-point shots converted list.

No player sits above him on both lists. Some made more shots, some converted at a better rate, but no one did both. And Korver has a few years left yet to dash defenses.

Korver may end up setting the single-season true shooting percentage record in 2014-15 too. His 71.5% mark this season would break the record currently held by Tyson Chandler (70.8%). In fact, the top five spots are currently held by 7-footers: Chandler, Artis Gilmore, and Wilt Chamberlain.

What does Korver do for others?

Herein lies the secret value of what Korver does. Budenholzer and Atlanta do an incredible job of spacing the floor. Their 5-out offense — without any big men cluttering the painted area — creates lots of space for players to drive, thereby creating kickout opportunities and the resulting passes that might follow those passes still.

The spacing is absolutely at its best with Korver on the floor, in part, because he rightly draws lots of attention from defenses. Teams insist on throwing extra bodies in his direction when he moves around screens and handoffs.

The end result: Acres of space for three-point shots for his teammates. Consider the three-point shooting of the Hawks’ two other top marksmen.

Jeff Teague connects on 39.0% of his threes when sharing the floor with Korver, but only 27.8% without him.

DeMarre Carroll benefits even more. He makes 41.9% of his threes with Korver and 26.5% without.

The Hawks score a team-best 110.5 points per 100 possessions with Korver on the floor, and correspondingly, a team-worst 94.7 points per possession with him off it.

Comparing those numbers with the full-season efficiencies for the 30 NBA teams, those numbers would be the difference between being the 3rd-best offense versus being the 29th-best offense.

Everyone still has to watch and wait and see how the next few years pan out before crowning Korver the Three-Point King. As of this moment, he’s in the top 5 and rising with a bullet.

It is fair to say, though, that Kyle Korver may just be the best three-point shooter in NBA history and, in 2015, in a league gone completely three-point happy, that fact changes how defenses play against the Atlanta Hawks.

In other words, Spurs East has a weapon that the regular old Spurs never had.

Next: NBA superfan is rooting for the Hawks

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