During the 2014-15 NBA season, Kyle Korver led the league in three point percentage, shooting 49.2% from behind the line. The second best three point shooter, percentage wise, was Eric Gordon of the New Orleans Pelicans, who shot 44.8%. The NBA league average for three point shooting percentage last season was 35%. For comparison sake, NBA MVP Stephen Curry shot 44.3%, good for third in the league.
So, Kyle Korver is the best three point shooter in the world. Why does this make him the most valuable player? Where is he on the assist leaders list? How about the rebound leaders list? Or Steals? Or any other basketball statistic? The truth is, Kyle Korver is nowhere to be found on those lists. There is no way he can be the most valuable basketball player on the planet, right?
Simple math tells us that a three point shot is worth more than a two point shot. Kyle Korver shoots three pointers as well as some players shoot from no more than a few feet from the rim; players whose job it is to only shoot layups. To Kyle Korver, a three pointer is a layup. When Korver shoots a “layup,” his is worth one more point than an above average players’ layup. His ability to make this shot with astounding consistency opens up more scoring opportunities around the rim for his teammates - if defenders are focused on shutting down Korver, they are less concerned with the players whose job it is to finish at the rim, making those layups more valuable, as they will now be slightly less contested. Korver’s value can not be measured in the statistics he generates for himself, it needs to be measured in the statistics that there are no categories for. Korver makes his teammates better simply by stepping foot on the floor.
Kyle Korver is so good, that when other teams play the Hawks, they scrap their basic defense, and must re-game plan to defend Korver. With the grueling nature of the NBA schedule, it is quite challenging to institute an entirely new game plan, in say, January, for one game, deviating from something that was implemented and executed since October. Defenses must know where he is at all times, or he will have wide open “layups.” This means the defense must lock and trail him off screens, chasing him all over the floor. They must close out high every time to Korver’s 6’7” frame, and attempt to get a hand over his shot without fouling him. Korver is very fundamentally sound, and may have the best footwork into his shot in the game - he is able to generate space just by stepping in and around screens, leaving the trailing defender helpless. The help side defense must abandon their assignments to step up - which leaves the rim unprotected for an easy traditional layup. Then, add in that Korver’s coach, Mike Budenholzer, is one of the most innovative offensive minds in the game, and each night against the Atlanta Hawks is going to be a struggle. It is no coincidence that in last years’ playoffs, when Korver got injured against the Cavs, the Hawks failed to play at the level they had all season, and fell from their number one playoff seeding to Lebron James and company. Without Korver on the floor, the Hawks were just another typical team.
As demonstrated by Kyle Korver, a great shooter is the biggest offensive weapon a basketball team can have. A great shooter is always going to get minutes, no matter the rest of his or her skill set. This is the sole reason why players like Marco Belinelli, Gary Neal, and Troy Daniels will always have a job, and why players like Nik Stauskas, Adam Morrison, and Jimmer Fredette will continue to be NBA lottery picks. Some coaches preach such adages as “If you don’t play defense, you won’t play…”, or “If you don’t box out, you won’t play…”. There should be an asterisk next to these antiquated, cliched maxims - “...unless you can shoot the ball.” A coach who is not playing his best shooter is not putting his or her team in a position for success. Conversely, if a basketball player wants to see guaranteed minutes, he or she needs to be able to consistently shoot the ball from deep, or else, their team may not be very successful.
Kyle Korver is a perfect example of how one elite skill can earn an individual millions of dollars and fame. Is he a great ballhandler? No. Is he a lockdown defender? No. Is he the best basketball player in the NBA? No. But, he is the most valuable basketball player on the planet because he holds the one basic skill that kids from all over practice from the time they first touch a basketball, and he does the one thing which is the name of the game: he shoots the ball better than any human being alive today.