The first piece I ever wrote as a sports writer was for FanSided’s Chicago Bulls blog, Pippen Ain’t Easy. To no one’s surprise, the subject of my article was Kyle Korver. He had easily become not only one of my favorite Chicago Bulls but one of my favorite NBA players. The piece was titled “Kyle Korver: More Than Just a Basket Maker,” and it was exactly what it sounds like: an article detailing how Korver was much more than an elite sharpshooter. The fun part, however, was that “basket maker” was literally who he was, as his last name translates into such in German. So Korver has not only lived up to his name, but he hasn’t been limited by it.
That was six years ago: a time when the Bulls were one of the league’s top teams, Derrick Rose was the reigning MVP, Tom Thibodeau was a top-tier coach in the infancy of his head coaching career, and LeBron James was on the Miami Heat and champion-less.
A lot has changed since then: Derrick Rose has been trying to prove he still belongs in the NBA after an injury-riddled career, Tom Thibodeau hasn’t been the successful coach he once was and has received criticism for his coaching style, and LeBron James has three championship rings and is back playing for his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers.
But what remains is Korver’s basketball abilities: both shooting and non-shooting wise.
He remains one of the league’s best sharpshooters but continues to do more than make baskets. He proved that Monday night in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ game four win over the Boston Celtics.
Behind LeBron James’ 44 points, Korver was the Cavaliers’ second leading scorer with 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the field, making two 3-pointers. Such shooting numbers aren’t a surprise, though. According to Basketball-Reference.com, this regular season has been one of his best shooting wise with an effective shooting percentage of 62.8 percent—the second best number for his career. But what is surprising are the three blocks Korver had in the victory—especially when considering that, at 37 years old, those blocks came against 21-year-old Jaylen Brown.
People don’t think of him as a defensive stopper, and rightfully so. Korver hasn’t made a name for himself in the NBA by being a good defender; however, that doesn’t mean his defensive ability should be overlooked. Korver has done well defensively in the past three games of the Eastern Conference Finals, and, per ESPN, the statistics back him up:
His defense has been remarkable over the past three games of the series, as Boston players have combined to shoot just 8-for-28 (29 percent) in that span with Korver on them as the primary defender, according to data compiled by ESPN Stats & Information.
Korver won’t get multiple blocks—let alone one—every game, and he’s not always going to be quick enough to keep up with an opponent. More times than not, he likely won’t be. But he’s a disciplined defender and really gives his effort, and, sometimes, effort is all you need.
Such effort was also evident in other areas of the Korver’s play Monday night. He made multiple hustle plays. Late in the third quarter, he raced Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris, and Marcus Smart, diving for a loose ball to get Cleveland possession of the ball. Making gritty plays aren’t what Korver is known for, but what he’s doing beyond making baskets is just as important. His shooting has and will help keep the Cavaliers in whatever game they’re playing, but what he does other than that has and will help them win.
Korver has always been a true professional in the league, but he’s setting an important example with his demeanor. Cleveland isn’t always a disciplined team, which is understandable given the fact James is on the team, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. Relying too much on James doesn’t turn out well for the Cavaliers. So for Korver to give his all on both ends of the court, in every way he can at his age just gives his teammates a reason to do the same. It helps set the tone for how Cleveland should play, and James appreciates what Korver has done.
“I’ve loved Kyle ever since we made the trade to get him here,” James said, referring to the midseason deal to acquire Korver in 2016-17. “I have no idea how Griff (David Griffin) was able to pull that off still to this day. He’s just a true professional. There’s not many of us ’03 (draft) class guys still around. I feel like we’re just cut from a different cloth because we’ve been around for so long. We have this work ethic and you see him every day putting in the work, putting his mind, his body into it. It’s not about his age. I think it’s just always keeping his body in the right position, especially in tonight’s game.”
Fifteen seasons and Korver is still one of the NBA’s best 3-point shooters, continuing to live up to his name. During a time in which 3-point shooting is more important than ever in the NBA, Korver is in his most important role yet—especially considering his team’s championship caliber. But it’s his ability to contribute in different areas that has helped him become one of the Cavaliers’ best players this postseason, and he’ll need to keep that up if they want to make their third-straight Finals.
Image via CBS Sports.