We often think of a basketball “move” as something a player does with the ball in his hands. A Euro step. A crossover dribble. A big man’s post game. Each of these encompasses a singular skill the player uses to generate an open shot by themselves. But not all offensive moves require the ball to be successful. For a handful of NBA players, it’s what they do in the lead up to receiving the ball that allows them to be successful. Some players use their signature moves to play off others, creating the outlets for when a more ball-dominant player can’t get their move to work. In today’s NBA, there’s no better example of that than Kyle Korver of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Korver has made a career off a signature move which involves him touching the ball for 1-2 seconds. It requires his teammates to be successful. But no one does it better than him. Korver’s ability to use screens to spring himself open is legendary. He’s become one of the five best shooters to ever play, as much because of his jumper as his ability to get in position to use it.
Korver is the most frequent screen-user in the NBA, generating 42.2 percent of his offense on these looks, per NBA Synergy data. He generates 1.26 points per possession off screens, which is in the 83rd percentile, the highest efficiency of any player using more than 15 percent of their possessions in this play type. He’s mastered the art of using a teammate’s body to spring himself away from the defender, setting his feet and firing before the defense has any hope of reacting.
It starts with the anticipation of the screen. Korver is constantly moving around off ball, and he tries shifty little moves to get his defender off balance before he even starts coming around the screen, or sometimes before the screen is even set. Rookies like Jayson Tatum aren’t ready for it, and get lost before the screen is even set.
Players have to account for him from anywhere on the floor, because he is just as likely to shift to the corner on a drive as he is to dart across the court through a maze of traffic. Korver isn’t the best athlete, but his acceleration is phenomenal, and his ability to change direction and ping through the paint to the perimeter is fascinating.
The anticipation and mind games Korver plays off ball set these looks up, but the real magic comes from two physical traits truly unlocking Korver’s abilities. The first are acceleration and agility, which Korver uses to throw defenders off balance. While we talk a lot about a quick first step with the ball on drives, Korver is outstanding at getting up to a sprint from a standstill, and then stopping on a dime to rise for a jumper. In this clip from a game against Miami last year, watch how Korver goes from 0-60 while tracking sideways to present a threat to pull from anywhere on his path off the screen:
That footwork sets up the second physical tool Korver uses — his balance. Korver’s gather into his jumper is nearly unmatched in today’s NBA, and he’s always ready to shoot immediately on the catch. That’s a result of his ability to control his body in space. Korver can decelerate instantly, square his shoulders and gather to release the ball all in one motion. Scouts talk about a one-motion release of the ball from distance — Korver almost has a one-motion jumper, and that starts from the moment he plants to square up as soon as he catches the ball.
As a defender, this is basically the off-ball version of being put in jail on-ball. Korver looks calm, fluid, and measured as he curls off the screen, but for the defender, this moment is chaos. Players have to read and react almost instantly to Korver’s movement, navigate the screen and try to stop and get a contest on one of the quickest jumpers in the NBA. More often than not, you’re going to end up like Ben McLemore here, who never had a chance at a quality contest.
Get hung up on the screen at all, and you’re left innocently trailing behind Korver as he fires away:
And on the rare occasion you beat the screen, watch as Korver just anticipates it, taking a gather dribble to create an extra few inches of separation before he buries it anyway.
The Cavs have even incorporated dribble-handoff shots for Korver with LeBron setting the screen, which is a new wrinkle setting Korver up to shoot right behind the screener, creating an extra degree of separation.
Spot-up shooting is a valuable skill for every NBA wing to master. But it can take years for players to build up simple consistency on their release, and that’s just from a standstill. Korver transcends what we think of as a spot-up shooter. Not only is he equipped with one of NBA history’s most textbook jumpers, he also has mastered the art of using space and the players around him to create open looks for himself. That’s what creates the gravity he brings to an offense — not just that he can hit shots if left open, but that he’s always moving, and you have to worry about him creating his own looks with just a sliver of space and a well-placed pass (especially on the Cavs, who have mastered the art of screens of suspect legality).
Korver deserves to be included in this encyclopedia. He may not have the explosion of a Giannis Euro step or the flair of a Kyrie hang dribble, but the way Korver combines his awareness and his elite agility and balance to get open is singularly unique to him. He’s advanced so far up the spot-up ladder that the Cavs are able to use him running off a screen on the other side of the floor as a decoy action to get Dwyane Wade or LeBron James an open look at the rim, which you can’t say about any other shooter in the league, save for maybe J.J. Redick. And to still be this effective coming off screens at it at nearly 37-years old is unheard of.
If we’re making a reference of the NBA’s most effective and transcendent moves in 2017-18, Korver’s ability to spring himself open definitely needs to be included.