Over at Grantland, Zach Lowe wrote a feature on Kyle Korver, the 3-point genius who, against all odds, has become one of the league’s most dangerous offensive weapons. He’s coming off a season where he converted 3s at a ridiculous rate of 47.2 percent, playing a career-high 34 minutes/game and helping the Atlanta Hawks reach the postseason. He also made at least one 3-pointer in 127 consecutive games, breaking Dana Barros’ record of 89.
And somehow, Korver keeps getting better. Though he’s 33, and heading into his 12th NBA season, he was one of the 19 players invited to the USA National Team training camp held July 28-Aug. 1. Not bad for a second-round pick.
In case you’ve forgotten, the 6-foot-7 Ashton Kutcher look alike first made a name for himself 11 years ago with the Sixers. He was drafted by the Nets with the 51st pick in the 2003 draft, then immediately traded to Philly for $125,000, which would cover summer league. Korver struggled as a rookie under Randy Ayers, who tried getting the sharpshooter from Creighton to develop a mid-range game. That didn’t work, at least not immediately; he shot 35.2 percent from the field (with a 2P% of 28.3) in his first year.
But Korver’s career took off the next season when the Sixers hired 3-point friendly Jim O’Brien.
In the team’s very first practice, Allen Iverson ran a two-on-one fast break with Korver filling the wing. Iverson dished to Korver behind the 3-point arc. Korver took two dribbles, nailed a 17-footer, and waited for the applause.
O’Brien was livid. He screamed for Korver to look down at the 3-point line. O’Brien told him that if Korver ever passed up another open 3-pointer, he would remove him from the game. Korver remembers one thought flying through his head during O’Brien’s tirade: This is awesome.
Korver led the league in made 3s that season, establishing himself as perhaps the league’s deadliest shooter. But he would not be pigeonholed as a spot-up guy chilling in the corner. He liked moving too much for that. Korver grew up in Lakewood, a small town within Greater Los Angeles, and he fell in love with the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s. “Everyone on that team was running, cutting, and passing,” Korver says. “To me, that’s still perfect basketball.”
To fully understand what Korver meant to Philly, it’s important to consider context. In part due to personnel, and in part due to coaching, the Sixers never had a lights-out 3-point shooter before Korver’s arrival. In the six seasons (1997-2003) under Larry Brown, the team finished last in 3-point attempts thrice, second-to-last twice, and 24th once. They had capable shooters, like Keith Van Horn, Aaron McKie, and briefly, Toni Kukoc, but they were nowhere near as effective as Korver. Even if they were, they’d likely have been underutilized with a 3-point opponent like Brown calling the shots.
Korver was, in many ways, the perfect 3-point specialist for the mid-2000s Sixers. With his smooth stroke and underwhelming athleticism, he fit all of the white-guy-shooter stereotypes. But unlike predecessors Van Horn, Kukoc, and Matt Harpring — who arrived with unfair expectations — he could shoot the lights out, and just as importantly, played with a 3-point friendly coach.
Korver’s Sixers tenure ended in his fifth season, when he was traded to Utah for Gordan Giricek and a first-round pick, a move that opened up playing time for Thaddeus Young and created cap space for the 2008 offseason. (Philly would end up needing every penny of its Korver savings for its five-year, $80 million offer to Elton Brand.) Though in spite of his short-lived Sixers tenure, he remains the franchise’s last, and perhaps only 3-point ace. In just 337 games, he nailed 661 3-pointers (1,618 attempts) at a 40.9 percent clip, good for second on the Sixers all-time leaderboard. (Iverson leads with 885, but needed 2,864 attempts). It’s possible, if not likely, that Korver is — and will remain — the best 3-point shooter in Sixers history. If and when a Sixer surpasses Iverson’s total, it’ll likely have more to do with the changing pace of the game, than the player himself.
On that note, I’ll leave you with highlights from a classic Korver performance from his sophomore season in a 106-104 overtime win over the Pacers. He finished with 23 points off the bench and hit seven 3s, including “the most unusual three ever hit” (1:20).
Stick around for a few minutes and you’ll catch an Iverson game-winning buzzer beater.