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The Ideal Specialist: Kyle Korver

Kyle Korver gives every specialist hope that they too can ride one strong skill to a long NBA career.

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Every year, there are a handful of players who catch on with an NBA team while only having one true pro-level skill. They’re serviceable in just about every area of the game, but there’s only one aspect of the game where they really can make a difference. Some are defenders, rebounders, playmakers or – in the case of Atlanta Hawks All-Star Kyle Korver – shooters.

The terms specialist and All-Star rarely go in the same sentence. They certainly weren’t used together when talking about Korver coming out of Creighton, where he had a strong career, but was far from a surefire pro. He was the 51st pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, which just barely earned him a non-guaranteed contract and an opportunity to try out for the Philadelphia 76ers.

The fit ended up being ideal, though, as the 76ers were still led at the time by Allen Iverson, a ball dominant scorer who needed spot up shooters around him. They believed Korver was a good enough shooter that he could make a career out of his ability to play off of stars like Iverson, and they were right. By his sophomore season, he was averaging 11.5 points a game and making over 200 threes a season at over a 40 percent clip.

“That’s just always been how I played, [relying on catch-and-shoot opportunities],” Korver said during All-Star Weekend. “I’ve never been a big dribbler. It’s like, how do you score in the NBA when you’re not dribbling? So you have to learn how to play without the ball because if you’re making your shots, people don’t just leave you. It’s just been a lot of years of trying to get better at it, being put in good systems where you get good screens, playing with good screeners and helping [teammates] be better screeners. It’s just been a combination, but it’s something I’ve always tried to do.”

As one of the league’s top marksmen, Korver assured himself a spot in the NBA for several years to come, but was an under-appreciated commodity. He went through a period when injuries held him back more than anything, but for a player like Korver the system and situation were the most important things around him. And, it wasn’t until this year with the Hawks that he found the perfect combination of the two to earn him the highest accolades and praise of his career.

“It’s really amazing,” Korver said. “I’ve never been a basketball prodigy, and I’ve never been at these types of things (events for top players). I think a lot people played a part in the success I am experiencing right now, and I’ve had such great coaching and such great teammates and systems that I’ve been around. [It’s] the teammates and systems that I’ve been around, the cities that I’ve been in and it’s just doing the daily work everyday. The All-Star game was never a goal of mine, I just wanted to keep getting better as a player and I just really love basketball. But if you surround yourself with good people and you work really hard, crazy things happen sometimes.

“It’s easy to take things for granted when they happen early and easy in life. And this has not been that way for me. I just found this out two days ago, so this is all really fresh and really new and I haven’t really had the time to digest everything. But it’s an incredible honor and I’m just really grateful to be here.”

Korver credits the P3 training facility in Santa Barbara, California for a lot of his emergence. He formed a relationship with the program while he was with the Utah Jazz, hoping to find a solution for some of the nagging, recurring injuries that were holding him back year after year. Thanks to Dr. Marcus Elliot, who has a long history of working with players and utilizing advanced techniques to help avoid and prevent injuries, Korver was able to re-evaluate the way he ran, jumped and even shot, making the necessary tweaks that have him playing better than ever.

“My body is getting healthier somehow and I think a lot of it is just the type of training I do in the offseason and how I’ve learned to take care of it and understand my body, first of all,” Korver said. “Then, I try to take care of it. People decline because their body breaks down, right? If your body doesn’t break down, you should just be better. You should be a better shooter because you’ve shot more shots, you should be a better player because you’ve been in more experiences. People decline because their bodies break down, but for a bunch of reasons I actually feel the best I’ve felt probably in my whole career. Plus you add in [my] experience and great coaching and great teammates, and a lot of things have kind of come together for me here in Atlanta.”

At 33 years of age, Korver has already lasted a lot longer in the league than most expected him to out of Creighton. After all, there’s a new crop of specialists trying to break into the league every year. Korver’s spot is secure, though, and will continue to be for several years to come, because he’s set the blueprint for how they can catch on, stick and even reach stardom.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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