Thursday, September 25, 2008

Things to look for this season: Kyle Korver

Who is Kyle Korver? Let's just say that he's a white shooting specialist who is a product of growing up in the Midwest and going to a smaller program in a fly-over state who was picked up by the Utah Jazz in a pre-trade deadline trade with the Philadelphia 76ers. Isn't that essentially the rap on Jeff Hornacek as well? The only difference is that Hornacek was an All-Star player (in the West, no doubt), and Korver is 3 inches taller and does less on the floor.

Kyle Korver doesn't need your dress code

When speculating on what the expect from Kyle this season I was reminded by what Jeff said years ago. He stressed how much of a difference it was for him, as a player in this system, to have at least one Utah Jazz / Jerry Sloan training camp under his belt. He was not so lucky when he first came to Utah in the middle of the 1993-1994 season, and had to basically play catch-up for the remaining 27 games (plus playoffs) of the season.

His familiarity, timing and production in the Utah Jazz system all improved from his first season to the next. Obviously part of this is just the fact that he's going to be better in a system after 120 games than after 40.

The beneficial effect of a training camp cannot be discarded either. So, let's look at the difference in play between that '93-'94 season and the 1994-1995 season:

The first (and probably most apparent) point is that Hornacek's mpg went up (30.6 to 33.3); so did his shot attempts per game (10.7 to 11.6); his field goal percentage also went up (50.9% to 51.4%); he also found out where in the offense to go to get three point shot attempts (1.6 threes attempted per game to 2.7); he got to the free throw line more (3.4 fta/game to 4.0) and ended up scoring more points per game (14.6 to 16.5). He also was able to understand the offense better to the point that he also recorded more assists (3.9 to 4.3). If you look at the end of season stats the difference from his total stats in Philly and Utah (1993-1994) vs. his first full season with the Jazz (1994-1995) are just silly -- 47.0 fg% to 51.4 fg%; 33.7 3pt% to 40.6 3pt% (46.6 the next season!!!); etc . . .

The Jazz offense is more complicated than any random fan will ever know, so complicated that a 30 year old player who has been an All-Star and in the league around a decade IMPROVES after having a Jazz training camp. It would be ridiculous to also expect Korver not to play 'better' and know the system better after a training camp. I don't expect Kyle to play 33 mpg, but I do expect him to know what he can do with his time better this season. That said, here's are three things to look out for this season:

  1. Expanded role in the offense in accordance with understanding it better: Hornacek was (and probably will always be) a much more talented and capable basketball player. (He used to start at shooting guard in Phoenix and was the back-up point guard for Stern's sake!) He had a really high basketball IQ (only Wade seems to make crazier layups after being fouled than the one legged Hornacek). Jeff still understood the offense better after training camp. Korver will also understand the offense better as well. Essentially the first real barriers have been overcome already -- early on when Kyle got the ball he felt pressured to shoot it. When asked why he answered that in Philly he had been conditioned to not expect the ball back after passing it. Things are different in the Jazz offense and he was surprised to see simple things like 'give 'n go's still existed here. He seems to understand that Harpring curl play, and knows how to stand in the corner waiting for the kick out pass, but he really hasn't found his legs in terms of finding guys who are open in return. If he could average over 2 apg in Philly he should be able to at least MATCH that here in Utah. (1.4 apg last season with the Jazz) More to the point, he can be the guy who passes the ball to the guy who gets the assist (what Hornacek was on a lot of plays) . . . training camp will help with this as he'll become a much more effective and cognitively aware Jazz player. His rep as a shooter is solid, why can't he pump fake a guy rotating to cover him, take two dribbles and pass to a cutter? His role in the offense needs to expand as his understanding of it does.
  2. Shoot smarter, thanks in part to training camp: I remember in the first few games after Kyle came to the Jazz that on breaks Deron would pass him the ball and he would just raise up outside of the three point line (no doubt causing sparks to go off in Jerry Sloan's pre-1960's basketball wired brain) -- just look in his first 20 games with the Jazz he was shooting 4.35 threes a game. Things did change as the season went on and in his last 20 games last season that was cut down to 3.2 a game. That does not mean that he was generally shooting less in total, but he was shooting smarter shots within the team offense. (In his last 20 games he still had a few games where he shot more than 5 threes, but this time around they came within the construct of the Jazz offense, instead of against the offense) Another factor is that as the season went on he rarely shot threes when there wasn't at least one Jazz guy in the paint to potentially grab the rebound. Before, in his first 20 games, he was a volume shooter who did not take 'smart' shots. I expect his shots to be even 'smarter' after a full training camp.
  3. Better team defense: Kyle is never going to be confused with Michael Cooper or Joe Dumars. That said, he's not completely hopeless on defense. His days playing one on one against Allen Iverson in Philly has taught him to sag off of quicker guards and stay in front of them. This is, really, fundamentally sound defense, as he tries to get in situations where he is beat off the dribble increasingly less. It still happens, but he does something that few guards really do. His 6'7 frame and lack of expected ability allow him to get a ridiculous number of weakside, stealth blocks. [0.5 bpg with the Jazz last season, tied for 3rd best on the team] Last season he had 9 games of at least 2 blocks. Really. Look it up. That includes games where he had 4 blocks against the Wizards, and 3 against the Nuggets. Furthermore, he'd have a lot more blocks but the score keepers are themselves so surprised that they do not even record some of his blocks as blocks at all! That said, he's not a great defender. He is fundamentally sound, long, and hopefully with the help of training camp, become a better team defender. And frankly, if you aren't getting better defensively after a Jerry Sloan training camp then you are incapable of getting better defensively. (I'm looking at you, Carlos!)