Kyle Korver is one of the best shooters in NBA history and this year is no different. He is currently shooting 43.6 percent from deep on 94 attempts and his shooting performances have been the catalyst for multiple Cavaliers’ victories.
But an odd trend has emerged for Korver in the early going.
With LeBron James on the floor, he is 35-61 from three, a blistering 57.4 percent. When LeBron James heads to the bench, Korver is an ice cold 6-33 (18.2 percent).
The nearly 40 percent difference between the two is astronomical, especially for a shooter of Korver’s skill level.
The LeBron Effect
When faced with this disparity, the immediate question becomes how much of an impact LeBron is having on Korver’s shooting success.
Take a look at Korver’s shooting percentage off of passes from various Cavs players.
In addition to his 53.7 percent three-point percentage on passes from LeBron, Korver is shooting 6-9 from three on passes from Wade with LeBron on and only 1-14 from 3 on passes from Wade with LeBron off the floor.
The area where Korver has excelled most on passes from LeBron is coming off screens. Typically, the action looks exactly as it does above, with Korver coming left to right off a pindown.
Korver is shooting a ridiculous 17-25 from three (68 percent) coming off screens on passes from LeBron.
But the numbers do not tell the whole story.
Take a look at these two possessions for Korver. The Cavs run the exact same action—Love fakes like he is setting a ball screen but continues on to set a pindown for Korver.
The first on a pass from LeBron:
The second on a pass from Wade:
The plays are nearly identical. The timing and location of the pass is almost exactly the same. Korver makes the shot on the pass from LeBron and misses on the pass from Wade.
Certainly there are some passes that only LeBron can make, but the quality and location of the looks when he is on and off the floor are sometimes similar.
On the flip side, there are clearly some instances where the gulf between LeBron and Wade as passers is more evident.
Against Charlotte, Korver sets a backscreen for Jeff Green before popping to three. Wade’s pass is both a beat too late and floated, turning what should be an open three into a contest by Jeremy Lamb.
Similarly, against Milwaukee, Wade’s floated pass turns a catch and shoot opportunity into a stepback dribble jumper. Korver is shooting 46.9 percent on catch and shoot threes, but only 3-13 (23.1 percent) on threes off the dribble.
A Focus on the Screener
Another potential hypothesis for Korver’s better percentage with LeBron is that different Cavs players are setting him screens, creating more space with their gravity.
While the sample size with LeBron off the floor is small, that does not appear to be the case.
One telling percentage is Korver shooting 5-7 from three when LeBron sets the screen to free him. Take a look at this play against the Hawks:
Taurean Prince is faced with an impossible task. When LeBron sets the screen, he can switch or hedge out onto Korver to take away the three. Do this and he risks LeBron ducking in for an easy layup as Marco Belinelli fights over the screen. Or, if Belinelli can complete the switch, he is left on an island in the post against LeBron.
Instead, Prince sticks close to LeBron and allows Korver to pop open for three. By the time he realizes Belinelli can’t get over the screen, it’s too late. Korver is already firing from deep.
When you combine passes and screens from LeBron, Korver is shooting a ridiculous 27-48 (56.3 percent) on all plays involving LeBron James. And it is possible that the percentage may not fall dramatically.
Last season, Korver shot 42-83 (50.6 percent) from three on passes from James. Combine that with LeBron’s gravity as a screener and it is possible the mark on Korver-James actions continues to hover around 50 percent.
Different Kind of Looks
The final hypothesis for Korver’s nearly 40 percent difference in three-point percentage with LeBron off the floor is that he is taking different types of shots in these situations.
While the sample size with LeBron off the floor should be taken with a grain of salt, this theory appears to have some merit.
With LeBron on the floor, nearly 90 percent of Korver’s three-point attempts are either off screens or in spot up situations. These have historically been his best shooting areas and, from the eye test, this makes sense. In both situations, there is less likely to be a contest on his jumper.
When LeBron is off the floor, his combined frequency of off screen and spot up attempts drops to only 55.2 percent. The rest of his attempts have come off dribble handoffs or “no pass” possessions (where he is the PNR handler, gets an offensive rebound or takes two-plus dribbles).
Note the difference in the contest Anthony Davis is able to give against this dribble handoff compared to the off-screen possessions above.
One way the Cavs have combated the lack of separation on DHOs is screening for Korver before he receives the handoff. Kevin Love sets a screen in this clip against Dallas, allowing Korver to take advantage of Dirk Nowitzki’s lack of ball pressure with Yogi Ferrell trailing well behind the play.
The Cavs essentially make this DHO an off screen possession, giving Korver room to shoot in his familiar left to right pattern.
Based on the film, there is good reason to believe that Kyle Korver will not shoot 18.2% from 3 with LeBron off the floor much longer. The Cavs have created enough open looks for him in these situations and he is too good of a shooter for this to continue.
But the Cavs should also focus on getting him more off screen looks with LeBron resting. He may not see the same percentage of spot ups, given that LeBron is the only Cleveland player that can consistently break down the defense with Isaiah Thomas still recovering from injury. These off screen plays can be created on nearly every possession and could boost an offense that has a 98 oRTG with LeBron on the bench.
There is some credence to the idea that Korver is going to shoot the ball better with LeBron on the floor. Over a two-season sample, Korver is shooting 64-124 (51.6 percent) from three on LeBron James’ passes. Between the spot up looks LeBron creates and his uncanny ability to deliver the ball on time and on target, Korver is going to benefit from getting clean looks.
In addition, LeBron’s gravity as a screener cannot be ignored. When the two are involved in an action off the ball, the defense is forced to make difficult choices that almost always result in good things for Cleveland’s offense.
With Korver’s red-hot shooting and James’ ability to penetrate with a spaced floor, it should come as no surprise that the Cavs have a 119.8 oRTG when Korver and James share the floor.