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Cleveland Cavaliers 2018-19 Player Preview: Kyle Korver

The sharpshooter is back for another year with a dramatically different Cleveland team

NBA: Finals-Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

There isn’t much mystery with Kyle Korver. Nobody’s asking questions about what new skill he’ll bring to the table in 2018-19 or what his season might look like. One of the most consistent players in the league, you know what you’re getting from Korver year in and year out: one of the best shooters in the league capable of hitting shots from anywhere on the court, at any angle, with or without being squared to the basket at a high rate. An offensive weapon from the moment he crosses half court, defenses are continuously aware of where he is, where he might be going next, and how they can impede him from getting his shot in the air, because if they fail at any of those things, it’s three points for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Korver will turn 38 before the 2018-19 season is out and yet he’s just as effective as he was when he was 28. In a league that values versatility more than ever before, he’s one of a few players around the league who serve as a reminder that being elite in a specific area can bring immense value to a team. Korver’s constant threat from outside the arc makes everything easier on his teammates on each and every possession, whether he touches the ball or not. When he does get the ball, odds are it’s going up, especially in the last season and a half he’s spent with the Cavaliers after moving from the Atlanta Hawks. Still as efficient as ever last season, more than three quarters of his total shot attempts were threes and he hit on an astronomical 43 percent of them, continuing a trend that’s persisted throughout his career – he hasn’t shot worse than 40 percent from three in almost a decade. It’s that kind of consistent production that makes him one of the game’s most lethal shooters, even at 37 years old and contemplating retirement, as he did this past offseason.

Since moving to the Cavaliers, there hasn’t been much to Korver’s game other than his outside threat. Given how much the ball handling duties were dominated by LeBron James and how much Cleveland relied on him to create, Korver’s responsibilities were intensely focused on giving the game’s greatest player as much space as possible to operate. His presence on the court took the Cavaliers to another level last season – when James played without Korver, they scored 112.2 points per 100 possessions; when Korver joined James, Cleveland put up 120 points per 100 possessions, a mark that would have been far and away the best offense in the league last season.

Moving into the second post-James era in the last eight years, the Cavaliers may ask more of Korver this season. The largest drop-off in his offensive game from his time in Atlanta has been his playmaking ability — the Hawks ran a much more egalitarian system than Cleveland has, though it’s fair to speculate that Atlanta did so out of necessity because they didn’t have a LeBron James to handle the ball. With James out of the picture and some uncertainty as to where the Cavaliers offense goes from here, there’s an opportunity for Korver to flash more of those passing skills that helped make Atlanta’s offense hum.

When you think of “playmaking”, often the first thing to pop in your head is a ball handler navigating a pick-and-roll and finding a teammate for an open layup or three-pointer. Korver’s playmaking is anything but that. The majority of his assists come off the same actions as his shots – he comes flying around a screen, the defense panics and doubles him, then he rises up and finds a rolling big man for a dunk. Korver’s immense height for a player in this role help him to find these pinpoint passes, something that most shooters simply cannot do. Standing at 6’8 with an equal wingspan, there are angles and over-the-top passes available to him that elude smaller players.

On the other end of the floor, Korver’s certainly slowed down but can still use his height and length to bother opponents. His perimeter defense has seen better days, but he’s still able to get his hands on the ball in pick-and-roll or move his feet well enough to stick with an opposing wing for a dribble or two. Cleveland certainly won’t throw him out there as the point-of-attack defender, but if an opponent’s tertiary ball handler wants to take it to the old man, Korver can hold his own well enough. He’s better in the post, where he doesn’t have to move as much and can use his length to contest shots. At his height, the Cavaliers threw him out at the power forward position here and there last season, which is certainly a disadvantage defensively but creates an offensive threat most teams can’t match. Even if they attack Korver on the block and in pick-and-roll, they still have to defend him on the other end of the floor and his efficiency from beyond the three-point arc outweighs any defensive deficiencies that come with playing him up a position.

In what could be his final season in the NBA, Korver’s three-point shooting will once again be on full display as he takes some of the offensive burden away from rookie point guard Collin Sexton and helps space the floor for Kevin Love’s post-ups and elbow touches. Ever a dependent talent, the Cavaliers will still need Sexton and Love to find him in the right positions, but even if they don’t find him on a particular possession, he’s still impacting Cleveland’s offense in all the invisible ways the best shooters in the world do.