Atlanta Hawks sharpshooter Kyle Korver is on pace to make history this season. This may come as a shock to many casual basketball fans, considering Korver isn’t exactly a household name and he’s a 12-year NBA veteran whose game should be showing signs of decline at 33 years old. But the League-Pass-obsessed basketball junkies aren’t surprised by this because they’ve seen firsthand that Korver has been an absolute monster this year and a key reason for the Hawks’ unexpected dominance.
Not only is Korver having the best season of his career, he’s on pace to finish this campaign shooting above 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the free throw line. He would be the first qualified player in NBA history to hit those percentages.
Korver is currently shooting a jaw-dropping 51.5 percent from the field, 53.6 percent from three-point range and 92 percent from the free throw line. If he keeps this up, this could legitimately go down as the greatest shooting season in NBA history.
Earlier in the season, it was assumed that Korver’s numbers would come back down to earth at some point and he’d finish the year shooting closer to his career averages of 45 percent from the field, 43 percent from three and 88 percent from the charity stripe.
But now the Hawks are officially at the halfway point of their season, and Korver continues to shoot lights out. His 53.6 percent from long range is the highest three-point percentage a player has ever had 41 games into a season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
To understand just how automatic Korver has been from long distance, consider that only five players in the NBA are shooting greater than 53.6 percent on two-point field goals this season, yet that’s what Korver is shooting from three-point land.
Korver has been shooting at such a high clip that he is leading the league in three-pointers made with 125, despite being ranked 11th in three-pointers attempted. That kind of efficiency is a big reason the Hawks currently have the fifth-best offense in the NBA, scoring 107 points per 100 possessions.
Also, if Korver can maintain his 73.9 True Shooting Percentage, it will be the highest single-season mark in NBA history among players who attempted at least 300 field goals.
When a player shoots 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the free throw line, it is considered an incredible achievement and they join what’s called the “50-40-90 club.” Over the years, only six players – Steve Nash, Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant – have earned their way into this exclusive club.
Korver is not only looking like a lock to join that group this year, he may be starting his own “50-50-90 club.” The closest any qualified 50-40-90 member has come to a 50-50-90 season was Nash in the 2007-08 campaign when he shot 50 percent from the field, 47 percent from three-point range and 91 percent from the free throw line. That was the highest three-point percentage of any qualified 50-40-90 season; every other 50-40-90 season featured a three-point percentage at or below 44 percent.
Notice that the term “qualified” keeps popping up. That’s because there have been some 50-40-90 seasons (and one 50-50-90 season) that didn’t officially count because the individual didn’t reach the statistical minimums necessary to qualify as a league leader for one or more of the statistical categories. Just like a player who has a 50-point game and then misses the rest of the season doesn’t win the scoring title, a player can’t qualify as a league leader for field goal percentage, three-point percentage or free throw percentage unless they’ve made a certain number of shots. A player must make at least 300 field goals, 82 three-pointers and 125 free throws to qualify.
The lone unofficial 50-50-90 season was recorded by Steve Kerr back in 1995-96, when he shot 51 percent from the field, 51 percent from three-point range and 93 percent from the free throw line, but he didn’t qualify because he didn’t make enough field goals or free throws. Kerr came up significantly short of the required 300 field goals and 125 free throws, hitting only 244 field goals and 78 free throws throughout the course of the season.
Korver is on pace to qualify – with 167 field goals, 125 threes and 69 free throws through 41 games – so he would have the first official 50-50-90 campaign if his percentages remain in their current range. While the achievement would be extremely impressive, Korver has downplayed it.
“We’re not even halfway [through the season], so I don’t want to get too caught up in it,” Korver told Fox Sports South. “I feel like for the most part I’ve shot the ball fairly consistently, and I think the thing with percentages, if you really watch guys’ percentages, a lot guys have a lot of good games but there are those outlier bad games that really kill percentages. And I think it’s trying to minimize those. You can have a few, but just try to be consistent with who you are and your approach.”
It’s not like Korver’s success came out of nowhere – he has always been an outstanding shooter. In fact, he already holds the NBA record for highest single-season three-point percentage after he shot 53.6 percent from long range in 2009-10 as a member of the Utah Jazz. He didn’t make the 50-40-90 club that year because of his field goal percentage (49.3 percent) and struggles from the free-throw line (79.6 percent), but he was terrific from three. Korver also owns the NBA record for most consecutive games with a three-pointer (127). Korver’s shot is the reason his NBA career has lasted over a decade and why he has made over $50 million since entering the league as the 51st overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft.
It’s no surprise that Korver is shooting the ball well; the difference this season is that he has elevated his already excellent shooting to another level. He calls it being “fairly consistent,” but a better description is virtually automatic and, potentially, historically good.
So why is Korver experiencing this kind of success now? He’s 33 years old, yet rather than declining, his numbers have improved across the board in each of the last three seasons. Part of the reason is that he has seen an increase in minutes and earned a starting role in Atlanta after coming off of the bench in Utah and Chicago. He’s also perfect for Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer’s system.
However, Korver believes the biggest reason for his boost in production has been his work over the last few offseasons at P3, a training facility in Santa Barbara that “utilizes advanced sports science technologies” to improve athlete performance and prevent injuries. It is run by a Harvard-trained physician named Dr. Marcus Elliott and features a staff of biomechanists, exercise physiologists, physical therapists and strength coaches.
In 2008, Korver started working with the P3 staff to fix an issue with his left knee. He arrived at their sports science research laboratory determined to find out why his knee had been nagging him for years. P3 uses motion-sensor data to help players avoid injuries and maximize their body’s potential. Korver went through some tests and they recorded him jumping and working out. Afterward, they showed him the video and it was immediately clear why he was having issues with his knee.
“When I looked at myself on the camera and they showed how I loaded and jumped, I almost threw up,” Korver told Sports Illustrated in an in-depth article about P3. “My left knee bent and almost knocked into my right knee. I had to totally reprogram my body. I was putting all the pressure on my knees, not using my glutes.”
This is what P3 does. They find issues with the athlete’s movements and then fix them with prescriptive workouts. Korver had to go back to the basics and change the way he was jumping. It worked and his knee issue went away. He continued training at P3, and swears by their staff and approach. Other NBA players have trained at P3 as well, including guys like Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors and Andrew Wiggins, but few have bought in to the process quite like Korver. He is fully committed to his P3 training, and he even purchased a home in Santa Barbara so he could be closer to the facility. Korver’s program now focuses on improving his lateral quickness and ability to create space. He believes the time he has spent at P3 has helped him play better this season and will extend his playing career.
“My body feels better now than it did at 23,” Korver told SI. “And that doesn’t happen in pro sports.”
In addition to his offseason work, Korver believes he has gotten smarter about preparing in-season and managing his body.
“A big part of, for me, shooting, is understanding my shot, understanding my check points, if I’m off where that comes from and keeping your body healthy,” Korver told Fox Sports South. “As you get older, you learn it’s not just about, ‘Did I get up 1,000 shots yesterday?’ It’s more, ‘Did I get my lift in? Did I get my legs stronger? Did I get the massage? Do I feel good?’ Those things tend to take on as big of a role as getting your shots up every day.”
As previously mentioned, though, Korver has really benefited from Budenholzer’s system, which focuses on ball movement and creates a lot of open shots for players. The ball is constantly moving around and players are setting screens to free others for catch-and-shoot baskets. This, of course, is Korver’s specialty. He leads the NBA in points off of catch-and-shoot opportunities (352), catch-and-shoot field goal percentage (52.4 percent), catch-and-shoot three-point percentage (53.2 percent) and catch-and-shoot threes made per game (2.8).
“I’ve had to learn how to search out shots because I don’t really create a lot on my own,” Korver told Fox Sports South. “So in my mind, when I’m limited to one dribble or no dribbles, how do you still get shots off in the NBA? A lot of it is just about finding the opening. There are openings in the halfcourt, there are openings on the break.”
Budenholzer praises Korver’s work ethic and he’s quick to credit the individual more than his system.
“Kyle, what he’s doing, is a credit to him,” Budenholzer said. “I think we’re lucky that he’s in the system. … I think it’s the players that make it work.”
Prior to taking over the Hawks, Budenholzer was a former San Antonio Spurs assistant. During his time with the Spurs, he coached Kerr and he sees some similarities between the two shooters.
“His preparation is off the charts,” Budenholzer said of Korver, according to Fox Sports South. “His professionalism, he’s a perfectionist. In some ways, being around a shooter like Steve Kerr for several years and [watching] how hard he worked at his craft and how much attention there was to detail and all the little things that go into making shots — I think those guys have some similarities. And then in some ways they’re very different in how they get shots and make shots and everything. But I can guarantee their coaches were happy they were on their team.”
The Hawks obviously have a lot of players who deserve credit for their excellent 33-8 record. Players like Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Al Horford and DeMarre Carroll are severely underrated as well and have been excellent this year too. But what Korver, in particular, is doing this season stands out since it is unprecedented. It’s worth noting that his ability to knock down threes at such a high percentage has also opened things up for his teammates since he spreads the floor and must be closely guarded whenever he’s on the court.
With Korver playing so well, there has even been some talk that the Eastern Conference head coaches could consider him for a reserve spot on the All-Star team. This would’ve sounded absurd before the start of the season, but because Atlanta has played so well, there are some who believe they deserve to have multiple players appear in the game. Millsap, who was selected to his first All-Star game last year, seems like a lock to get in again and some have argued that Korver could be Atlanta’s other selection. The fact that the East field is rather weak helps Korver’s chances too. Opposing coaches have experienced firsthand just how excellent Korver has been this season, so it’s a possibility they consider him (or they could go with Teague, who has been great too).
Either way, Korver’s season has been truly special. He has long been one of the NBA’s most underrated players, as evidenced by him being passed over repeatedly in the 2003 NBA Draft and bouncing around the league even though he’s one of the game’s best shooters. This year, he hasn’t gotten nearly enough credit for the sensational season he is having. He continues to fly under the radar, much like the Hawks as a whole for that matter.
However, if he maintains these shooting percentages, it will be impossible to ignore him because he would be the NBA’s lone qualified member of the 50-50-90 club and his campaign would be recognized as the greatest shooting season in league history.
Horford, Williams Named NBA Players of the Week
The Atlanta Hawks’ Al Horford and the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Mo Williams today were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played Monday, Jan. 12, through Sunday, Jan. 18.
Horford appeared in three-of-four games during the Hawks’ 4-0 week. He averaged 21.7 points on a league-leading .844 (27-of-32) shooting percentage, and added 8.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists. He posted a triple-double with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists during a 105-87 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Jan. 13. On Jan. 16, Horford shot 8-of-8 from the floor en route to a 22-point night as the Hawks beat the Toronto Raptors 110-89.
Williams helped the Timberwolves to a 2-1 week behind averages of 30.3 points (third in the NBA), 6.3 assists (sixth in the Western Conference) and 39.8 minutes (third in the NBA). Both of Minnesota’s wins came on the road. Williams erupted for an NBA season-high 52 points on Jan. 13 during a 110-101 win over the Indiana Pacers.
Other nominees for the Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week were Charlotte’s Bismack Biyombo, Cleveland’s LeBron James, Detroit’s Brandon Jennings, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Los Angeles Clippers’ Matt Barnes and Blake Griffin, Memphis’ Zach Randolph, and Miami’s Chris Bosh.
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