Coming into this season, the biggest worry for the Cavs was their bench. Between losing Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov to free agency, Mo Williams deciding not to play, aging veterans and little cap mobility, there was cause for concern in terms of depth.
Two players in their 20s walked because other teams threw bags of cash at them, Iman Shumpert wasn’t developing into the constant three-and-d threat that they hoped for, it was hard to bet that Richard Jefferson would borrow Tim Duncan’s map to the Fountain of Youth and, in general, the bench wasn’t the sort of versatile and reliable group that forwarded the possibility of running back a title. Obviously, that’s changed.
The additions of Deron Williams, Derrick Williams, Larry Sanders, (and the idea of Andrew Bogut) have all been low-risk, high-reward signs, but the trade for Kyle Korver has worked out, well … about as well as you’d expect when pairing a scorer/passer like LeBron James with one of the greatest jump shooters to ever play the game.
Since becoming a Cav, Korver has shot 48.7 percent from three, including shooting 58.9 percent in the month of February. Since most of his time in Cleveland has been during the absence of J.R. Smith, Korver will probably see a decreased number of minutes during the playoffs, but he’s the sort of player that can be trusted to shoot with a high efficiently on limited opportunities. And, if Shumpert goes cold, or Korver is particularly hot, there’s not a reason to worry about him playing a big chunk of minutes in the playoffs. I’d imagine we’ll see at least one playoff game where he single-handedly buries a team.
Beyond that, he could make a significant mark on a title run, from floating a second unit, helping to build a lead and giving the starters extra rest, to hitting clutch shots in close games when the primary scores hit a rough patch. In the playoffs, teams will throw whatever they can defensively at LeBron and Kyrie to limit their looks, which should theoretically give shooters like Korver extra space. Although, Korver doesn’t need much space to begin with — a quick trigger, a high-point release, crafty off-the-ball movement and a high basketball IQ allow him to create high-quality shots from a lot of different situations.
So, before Korver comes back from his foot injury, here’s a quick look at some of the ways that he’s fit in with the team so far, and how he could help the Cavs win another title.
The first and most obvious thing that Korver adds to the Cavs is another pick-your-poison shooter who benefits from LeBron freezing the defense and the ball movement that follows. Here it is at work in transition, where LeBron draws the attention of four defenders, leading to a string of passes that the defensive rotations can’t catch up with. With Korver, you’ve added another dangerous outlet option to a field which had already consisted of Smith, Jefferson, Channing Frye and Kevin Love.
But, while Korver’s a lights-out spot-up sniper, he also has so many other dimensions to his field goal efficiency, primarily his ability to move without the ball, something that, while they have plenty of three-point shooters, the Cavs have lacked. Through injuries, fatigue and cold streaks, we’re seen the Cavs’ offense become stagnant for a team with their scoring capabilities, but Korver adds another layer to the offense’s potential to get quality looks.
In the video below, Korver never stops moving, fluidly catching an inbound, getting the ball back to the point guard, creating space, finding Tristan Thompson’s pick and catching in the corner. The Cavs four best scorers aren’t in this lineup. It’s good awareness from Deron Williams and Thompson, and a great play call, but Korver makes this sort of look possible.
Something that somehow seems easy to forget about Korver, even though he consistently uses it to his advantage, is that he is 6’7”. He doesn’t need much space either, as you can see in the video below, where Love gets his route to the rim cut off and throws a high pass to Korver. By the time he brings it down, he doesn’t have much of a shot, but after a quick ball fake, he launches it anyway, with the sort of smoothness of someone who usually has about four more feet of space.
He has a good feel for when there’s a better option, as well. LeBron finds him from virtually the same situation as the last video, except hits him with a better pass. Here, though, he realizes the player closing out is doing so much faster, and is also much smaller than him. So, he takes one dribble, avoids getting swiped by the help defense, and uses his size to get a cleaner shot.
Although Korver’s obviously not much of a facilitator, he definitely can make the smart pass — and like almost everything he does on offense, he can do it without a hitch. Here — with another good play call — Korver moves quickly toward a screen, which the defender fights through, while the opposing center freezes for a second, leaving an Tristan an open roll to the rim.
For only being a Cavalier for two months, Korver has already blended in as anticipated. But, between LeBron’s vision, Lue’s creativity, Kyrie playoff clutch factor and seeing him log more minutes with Deron Williams, we may have yet to see Korver’s ceiling on this team. I don’t expect him to shoot almost 60 percent in a month again this year, but he makes defenses move and think in a different way than a lot of players. Add in the return of Smith and Love, plus running in more second-unit lineups with a three-time All Star point guard, and it’s an equation that could help move the Cavs in the direction of taking another title.