BROOKLYN— With just under six minutes to play in the first quarter on Friday night, Kyrie Irving led the Cleveland Cavaliers on a fastbreak, stopping around the top of the key to drop the ball off between his legs to a trailing LeBron James. Dribbling the ball twice, King James drove into the paint, leaping to toss a wraparound pass to the left corner, where a relocated Irving awaited. As Nets guard Isaiah Whitehead closed out on him, Irving quickly whipped the ball to the top of the key to a wide-open DeAndre Liggins. And there Liggins did something the Cavs haven’t done much of this season: He passed on the three and instead kept the ball moving to the other side of the court.
That might soon be a thing of the past, as least as soon as the Cavs and Atlanta Hawks finish their trade for sharpshooting guard Kyle Korver. Any open perimeter looks remaining the Cavs’ offense are about to get swished from one of the greatest three-point shooters to ever play the game.
It’s easy to imagine Korver slotting into the Cavaliers’ full-throttle offense, floating around the perimeter and being the beneficiary of kick-out passes from James and Irving. When asked to explain how Korver might blend into Cleveland’s offense, Cavs big man Channing Frye, third in the NBA in three point shooting percentage (45.9 percent) opened his eyes wide and silently stared back at the questioner for several seconds, almost as though he was acting out an emoji that suggested the answer to the question was obvious. Once his words returned, Frye said that when he heard about the Korver addition, he immediately pictured how it would work.
“I was ecstatic, because now it’s like, OK, who are you gonna stick to?” Frye said. “We have three or four guys who go downhill, so there’ll be no more double teams. I mean, that paint is gonna be wide open.”
"It'll be good for our team," James told reporters earlier Friday. While James has been vocal about his desire for the Cavs to add point guard depth, he also understands the value of Korver. "It adds another dynamic piece to our team. Hell of a sharpshooter and just a great guy. Great professional, as you've seen over his career, so once he gets here, we'll be happy to have him."
As Frye noted, Korver possesses an ability rare in the NBA, where he can create space for his teammates just by being on the court.
“I think [Korver] and JJ Redick, those are the only two guys off the top of my head that I know that can get a double team without the ball,” Frye said. “Any time one of those guys comes off a screen, if you’re not out, it’s a catch and it’s up, even if you’re right behind him. So, hopefully he gets used to getting a lot of looks, and he keeps shooting that thing.”
Not that the Cavs have had any problems shooting that thing this season. As it stands now, the Cavs already have two of the NBA’s top 20 three-point shooters by percentage in Frye and Irving (41.5 percent), with Love just behind (39.9%) and the injured J.R. Smith a career 37.5% shooter. As a team, the Cavs make threes at a 38.8 percent rate, third only to the San Antonio Spurs (41.4%) and Toronto Raptors (38.9%). The Cavs attempt 33 threes a game, behind just the freewheeling Houston Rockets.
“People think we’re a three-point shooting team,” Frye said, “but I think we just shoot a good percentage, and if you look at us, we really live in that paint, attacking that rack, going to the hole. And then when people take that away, we have guys who are OK with shooting 7, 8, 9, 10 threes a game.”
Considering Cleveland’s existing perimeter prowess, adding Korver to help with outside shooting is a bit redundant. Korver has led the NBA in three-point shooting percentage in two of the last three seasons, and while he’s struggled this season, he’s still shooting 40-percent from the three-point line. Although Korver’s decreased mobility in part led to him being removed from Atlanta’s starting lineup earlier this season, with the Cavs this shouldn’t matter: James will drive and throw impossible passes to a wide-open Korver along the perimeter, and Korver will likely get looks as open as if he’s in the three-point contest. (Coach Lue colorfully referred to these types of chances as “butt-naked shots.”)
“There are opportunities for [Korver] to be more open than he was in Atlanta,” Irving said. “No disrespect to them, but we just have continuity in our offense and guys that can make plays that are willing to give up the basketball. The unselfish brand of basketball that we play, I can only imagine him coming off those pin downs. And whether he’s open or not, we’re telling him to shoot it.”
While the Cavaliers wait for the Korver trade to be finalized, they are deep in the weeds of another NBA season. While the Cavs hung on to beat the Nets, 116-108, they are firmly in control of the Eastern Conference with a 25-8 record, with about two-thirds of the season looming in front of them. But if you’re one of Cleveland’s Eastern Conference opponents, it’s another case of the rich getting richer. In the meantime, the Cavs seem thrilled to incorporate Korver into their long-distance shooting show.
The only possible downside? Offered Frye, with a smile: “Hopefully he doesn’t get jealous of how wet my jumper is.”
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