DA's Morning Tip
Kyle Korver learning to play wait-and-succeed kind of game
Veteran marksman adjusting to new on-court role that comes with playing alongside LeBron James
How formidable can the Cleveland Cavaliers’ bench become?
For Kyle Korver, it feels like more than 82 games this season.
“The Hawks’ schedule was frontloaded, and the Cavs’ is backloaded,” he said last week. And even though the most regular games he can actually play in this season is 78, the sense of change and the need to get up to speed quickly can put all kinds of emotional drag on a body and mind.
It is not easy playing off of LeBron James. Understand: it isn’t hard, in the physical sense. It’s actually some of the easiest times a smart basketball player will ever have. But it is not easy for most players just … waiting.
It’s what Chris Bosh talked about a couple of years ago, when asked how Kevin Love would have to adjust from getting multiple looks and touches in Minnesota to … waiting in Cleveland. And that’s someone who was, who is, starting. For those who come off the bench, it can be even more difficult.
It’s a transition, even coming to the defending champions, even when they really want you, as the Cavs really wanted the 35-year-old Korver, picking him up from Atlanta in early January for Mike Dunleavy, Jr., Mo Williams and a protected 2019 first-rounder. Some of Korver’s advanced numbers may be down compared to his last few seasons with the Hawks, but the only number that matters is .441 — his 3-point percentage this season.
But no one says no to going to Cleveland.
In 17 games for the Cavaliers, Korver is averaging 10.6 points in a little more than 25 minutes per game.
“Coming off of those screens, it’s a different mindset than just waiting for it,” Korver said, “and never knowing when that ball’s coming, cause he literally throws it at any moment, and then it’s just catching fireballs and being ready to shoot ‘em. So it’s a different mindset, seeking out shots versus waiting for shots. But, obviously, this is an incredible situation for me to be in.”
Cleveland has been adjusting its bench all year. Dunleavy, Jr. and Chris Andersen had been the major offseason acquisitions, but neither panned out — Dunleavy wasn’t as good a fit as either he or the team had hoped, and Andersen tore his right ACL in December and is out for the season. Iman Shumpert was supposed to come off the bench, but he’s had to become a starter after J.R. Smith broke his hand.
Rookie point guard Kay Felder isn’t ready (hence James’ repeated, and repeated, contention that the Cavs need a playmaker). The latest reclamation project is former No. 2 overall Draft pick Derrick Williams, signed to a 10-day contract last week after being released by the Miami Heat.
Williams has impressed at every stop, for a while, with his athletic chops. But he’s never been able to find a home. The difference here is that the bench players’ roles are so defined, and their chance at success so much better than most places, because they so frequently have either James or Kyrie Irving or Love on the floor with them.
In Cleveland, Williams can just attack the front of the rim, the way Tristan Thompson does as a starter. With Korver and/or Channing Frye on the floor, Williams will have driving and lob lanes. Defensively, he can take on some of those backup fours and fives that occasionally get Frye in foul trouble.
“I think I’ve gotten more inside-out corner threes here than I’ve gotten in the last, I don’t know how many years. But it is a different mindset, kind of waiting for the shot versus seeking it out. I feel like I’m still getting better at it.”
Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyle Korver
“He’s 25-years old,” James said of Williams to local reporters over the weekend. “It doesn’t seem like it because we’ve been hearing his name for so long. But he’s 25, he hasn’t even gotten to his potential, to his prime yet. So hopefully this group, this locker room, myself, my leadership — just want to see him grow every day, and it’s a good place for him.”
But Korver has been exactly as advertised. The Hawks’ system was a constant series of cuts and screens away from the ball, with everyone moving. A pass could come from anywhere — Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, Al Horford — and Korver was always setting up the next move, sprinting from one side of the floor to the other, exhausting defenders trying to keep up.
Cleveland’s system is different. Either James or Irving has the ball most of the time. Both are incredibly talented, of course, possessing amazing court vision — so ultimately, once defenses commit to either of them, they’ll find the open man. Veterans like Frye and Richard Jefferson found where they could wait for the wide-open looks that James and Irving create. So, now, is Korver.
“I spent a lot of years searching for shots,” Korver said, “so it’s definitely different. I mean, I love the looks that I’ve been getting. I’m not saying one way is better than the other. I think I’ve gotten more inside-out corner threes here than I’ve gotten in the last, I don’t know how many years. But it is a different mindset, kind of waiting for the shot versus seeking it out. I feel like I’m still getting better at it.”
You could say that. In his third game with Cleveland, he made seven of 10 shots from the floor, and 4 of 6 threes, for 18 points against the Kings. Fourteen points in 22 minutes against Brooklyn. Twenty points in 24 minutes against Minnesota. And 29 points in 26 minutes at Indiana, including a career-high eight threes, in the Cavs’ comeback win last week.
But leaving Atlanta, where Korver became an All-Star and went from being a role player in his previous stops with the Chicago Bulls, Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers to a starter and a key component of a 60-win team that made the Eastern Conference finals in 2015, was not easy. Korver was a leader there, whose offseason conditioning program in California with the Peak Performance Project became part of the Hawks’ program.
“I felt like there was a lot of change that happened in the years I was there,” he said, “from top to bottom — ownership, to general manager twice, to the coaching staff. A lot of players, obviously. And uniforms. Literally, everything. But I got to play a small role in a lot of things. We liked what we built, the year we got 60 wins, and four All-Star players, that was a really special year for us. It’s hard to leave that. I made a lot of good friends in the community, just a lot of relationships that I spent a lot of time in that I invested in and I enjoyed. But that’s just part of the business.”
The Cavs are almost certain to add a veteran ballhandler — playmaker, sorry — before too long, probably after the trade deadline, when veteran players often are bought out. Shumpert has a sprained ankle now but likely will keep starting until Smith is back in a month or so. Frye and Jefferson and Williams will split the frontcourt minutes and matchups. And Korver will spot up.
In basketball, there’s all kinds of ways to create movement when you don’t have the ball. Just setting a back pick starts the defense scrambling. But pindowns and single doubles aren’t the typical way the Cavs create open shots.
“No,” Frye chimes in, two seats away. “Stand there. Stand there. And just get ready.”
… AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER
Do you. From Johnny Lugo:
I’m a big Spurs fan from the Northeast. Kind of strange, I know, but I was a huge David Robinson fan and it’s been all Spurs since. My question is: do you think they have enough offensive weapons to compete with GSW? Pop & Co. don’t do many (if any) major midseason trades so no Melo on the horizon. Thoughts?
No one can outscore the Dubs, Johnny. Doesn’t mean they can’t be beaten, but if you try to get into an arms race with Golden State you’re gonna lose. I saw San Antonio smash the Warriors on opening night by playing to its own strengths — hammering the Warriors inside with LaMarcus Aldridge’s midrange game, and Dewayne Dedmon’s and Jonathan Simmons’ hops off the bench. That’s the vulnerability in Golden State’s Death Star, like the Thermal Exhaust Port in the original Death Star constructed by the Galactic Empire. And that’s the one chance San Antonio has to beat the Warriors.
Somebody’s Got to Back up Harry Potter. From Haaris Ahmad:
Saw you at the game last night, and I wanted to ask you about the future of the Wall/Beal/Otto core. The Wizards gave everything they had but Cleveland always had another weapon. Is there enough talent on the roster to beat the Cavs?
The starters plus Oubre played as intense as I’ve ever seen them compete. I know Brooks has a rotation, but I’m not sure if the answers are Jason Smith or Trey/Sato.
Cleveland just has too much all over the floor, I’m not sure how the Wiz can package a deal to get another wing/stretch 4 to go at LeBron. We are a Wilson Chandler-type and a Jordan Clarkson away from getting to the next level, in my opinion.
Washington’s a step ahead of you, Haaris. The Wiz covet Chandler and/or Will Barton from Denver to bolster their bench, but the conversations have, for now, stopped because the Nuggets are holding firm to wanting Porter in return, and that’s a non-starter. No chance the Lakers make Clarkson available. If the Wiz can’t pry Chandler loose for non-Otto assets, I see them going the add a bought-out vet route after the deadline.
I thought all Canadians were polite. What’s that aboot? From Ammar Naseer:
When will Masai Ujiri finish his perpetual evaluation, and why is he waiting until the 2020 elections to make a trade for the sliding Raptors?
No question, Ammar: Toronto needs to do something. Their backcourt is elite; little else on the team is, and the Raps’ defense slide (18th in defensive rating) is alarming. You still hear the Raptors have major interest in the Orlando Magic’s Serge Ibaka, which would make sense — they haven’t been able to replace the shot blocking of the departed Bismack Biyombo (who, ironically, also is in Orlando), and Ibaka is shooting a career-best 39 percent on 3-pointers this season. There are a lot of ways to make a deal work — and based on the Magic’s performance of late, hoo, boy, does Orlando need to make a deal.
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(Last week’s averages in parenthesis)
1) Russell Westbrook (34.3 ppg, 13.7 rpg, 9.3 apg, .438 FG, .889 FT): Well played.
2) James Harden (31.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg, .9.7 apg, .390 FG, .810 FT): Fascinating read on why Harden is nearly unstoppable on a basketball court — because he can stop faster than just about anyone in the league.
3) LeBron James (25.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 8.8 apg, .580 FG, .650 FT): He says he’s fine, but it’s hard not to see the Cavs cut back on his minutes in March. It doesn’t matter at all to Cleveland if it finishes first or second in the East as the Cavs can win everywhere. So losing a game or two down the stretch of the regular season to give James a night off seems a more than equitable tradeoff.
4) Kawhi Leonard (33.3 ppg, 7 rpg, 4.7 apg, .493 FG, .871 FT): Thirty points or more in 10 of his last 14 games, including 36 Sunday against the Knicks.
5) Kevin Durant (26.7 ppg, 8 rpg, 4.7 apg, .510 FG, .875): Only one man could understand what KD was feeling as he walked back into Chesapeake Energy Arena on Saturday.
BY THE NUMBERS
20 — NBA teams that will have a direct NBA D-League affiliate next season, after the Bucks announced last week that they’ll be starting a D-League franchise in Oshkosh, Wisc., starting with the 2017-18 season. The D-League will have a total of 25 teams next season, the most in league history. The Oshkosh team will play in a new 3,500-seat arena.
18 — Three-pointers by the Kings in their amazing comeback win Friday against the Hawks, a franchise single-game record. Sacramento trailed Atlanta 71-49 in the third quarter before exploding for 59 points in the last 19 minutes of play in the 108-107 win.
23,775 — Career points for Carmelo Anthony, who passed Charles Barkley Sunday for 25th place on the NBA’s all-tie scoring list in the Knicks’ upset win over the Spurs.
I’M FEELIN’ …
1) Wizards-Cavs goes on the short list for best regular season games — best games, period — ever. All the stars played like stars; the game went back and forth, LeBron hit an all-time shot to send it to OT. Just incredible stuff.
2) I have come around to the notion that the Heat’s win streak was good for the franchise rather than a detriment to its hope/need to position itself favorably for the Draft. I worked in Philly when the 76ers went on a similar improbable streak in 2008 to get to the playoffs after starting 18-30, and I wrote then that as an organization, you can never get comfortable with or desire losing, even in the short term. (Amazing how radical a notion it was then that Mo Cheeks used lineups featuring Thaddeus Young at power forward in an early iteration of small ball.) Losing is corrosive. It destroys the competitive fire that is at the heart of every championship organization. I still don’t think the Heat’s run makes sense in the long term; it’s hard to see many of the players involved in the streak being there in two years. But it’s still better than marking time waiting for the Lottery.
3) Getting a physical offensive center in Jusuf Nurkic that can score and rebound (okay, defense was a problem), still on his rookie deal (through 2019), and a 2017 first in a deep Draft, for a center in Mason Plumlee who grinds and was extremely popular in the locker room, but wasn’t making a depreciable difference at the defensive, and was only going to cost you more loot going forward as a free agent next summer? That’s a great Sunday morning’s work for the Blazers.
4) Things you don’t expect to see, and could swear are hallucinations if you see them before your first cup of coffee.
NOT FEELIN’ …
1) That was some ugly business playing out at MSG last Wednesday between Charles Oakley and the Knicks. I get that there’s bad blood between Oak and team owner James Dolan and that neither side wants to look like it’s backing down. But this is a way worse reflection on the seemingly endless river of dysfunction with the Knicks — a franchise that, under Dolan, always overreacts to the wrong things and rarely gets out of its own way. The team’s president hasn’t spoken formally to the local media since September — and, yes, this is a first, me taking the side of the local media in New York. Insinuating a substance or mental health problem is at the root of Oakley’s behavior toward Dolan is the height of character assassination. “The great organizations have great ownership, great management teams — they might not get along, but know how to argue — and put out a good product. The Knicks have none of those things,” one of the smartest sports execs I know said Friday. Someone needs to step in and get Dolan and Oakley in a room and reach some kind of peace. What say you, Commissioner Adam Silver?
2) It’s hard to recall a player suffering a second ACL tear to the same knee. But that’s the fate of Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker, who’ll miss the rest of the season after again tearing his left ACL against Miami. What awful news.
3) Was wondering when this would come down. I love the way that most teams use their official Twitter accounts and I don’t mind some good-natured ribbing of opponents. But a few isolated instances have gone a little far.
4) RIP, Fab Melo. Twenty-six is way, way too soon, no matter the cause or reason.
5) No Tip next week, as I’ll be hip-deep in All-Star Bidness. Back two weeks from today, on the 27th.
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Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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