Kyle Korver and the LeBron James Experience

Kyle Korver Cavs Warriors

Kyle Korver has been in his new city for less than 48 hours but has already had his Welcome to Cleveland moment. Ironically, it came in Oakland as the veteran wing got his first taste of Cavs-Warriors basketball. In the first quarter, with the Cavs quickly down, 12-4, Korver stood in the left corner directly in front of the Cavaliers’ bench. He passed the ball to LeBron James, as any smart teammate of James’ would. As the four-time MVP attempted to dribble toward the rim, however, he lost control of the ball.

It’s at this point where most plays get broken up, leading to errant shots, late-clock passes, or turnovers. James, however, corralled the ball with his right hand and, while hunched over as if he were tripped and falling forward, whipped the ball around his back, splitting two defenders, landing it right at the shoulders of his new teammate. Once Korver was able to wash away the surprise of the basketball somehow finding him, he realized he was wide open, and hoisted up the corner three. It would clang off the iron.

It was just one missed shot, but it was more than that for Korver. It was a moment where—after having met his teammates on the road following his mid-season trade from Atlanta—he realized what sort of opportunities will be presented to him by merely playing alongside LeBron James.

“I told him my bad on missing that shot,” said Korver of the moment. “It would have been on his lifetime highlight reel. It was an incredible pass. I thought the play was broken. He was trying to pick it up and whipped it around his back and right at my head. I was like, ‘Wow, I have the ball—and I’m open’ and I hesitated and missed the shot. That’s what he creates. He’s got such an incredible feel for the game, it’s good to be on the other side with him.”

It’s a great opportunity for me. I’ve never played with someone who sees the floor and passes like he does.

— Kyle Korver on LeBron James

Since his arrival, the Cavs have spent a good chunk of their games attempting to get Korver involved. In his first two games, having not had a practice with his new teammates, Korver was 2-of-10 from the floor, missing his first five three-point attempts. The team was able to have a practice before their final two games of their recent six-game road trip and saw a marked improvement in the swingman’s box score as he went 11-of-20 from the floor over the final two games, draining seven of his 14 shots from distance. More importantly, the source of these looks has been James. Korver has received 66 passes in his four games with his new team. James has orchestrated 28 of the 66. The next-closest player? Kyrie Irving with eight. ((h/t to Jason Lloyd for this stat.))

The first practice, on the road, Korver ran a lot of 5-on-0 work without any impediments in the way of defense or missed assignments. It wasn’t until Wednesday—as the team traveled back from the West coast on Tuesday—where he had his first taste of a scrimmage with screen-setting, sets and much more motion.

“A lot of what my game is is based on chemistry, me getting a feeling for the guys, them getting a good feel for me and how I play,” said Korver of his additional time with the team. “The more time we spend together, the better chemistry we’re going to have. Every day gets a little better.”

If Korver’s game against the Sacramento Kings is any indication, additional work with the Cavs will lead to good things. The sets run during the final two games of the west-coast swing have already drawn comparisons to what Doc Rivers and Eric Spolestra did with Ray Allen in Boston and Miami, respectively, and what Rivers has done with J.J. Reddick in Los Angeles. With James handling the ball at the top of the key, the Cavaliers have been able to run heavy-motion sets that start with Kevin Love and find Korver running around a hammer screen set by Tristan Thompson.

What Korver brings in the way of an added element comes in the form of a player who will have to be accounted for by multiple defenders as he fights through traffic. The very next time down the floor against the Kings, the Cavaliers ran the exact same play with Korver running through Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, only this time the defense took an extra step toward Korver, leaving Love open underneath for an easy two points.

“We’re going to try and have some sets where there’s a lot of motion,” Korver told WFNY on Wednesday. “It’s a learning process, and it’s all kind of new for all of us. Some of the sets, we’re just putting in right now, so it’s kind of new for everybody. But LeBron makes everything easier. He has such a feel for the game, what’s going to be open, who’s going to be open.”

Korver has only been in Cleveland for two days, experiencing his first taste of Cleveland Clinic Courts,1 but the veteran has already learned key lessons. Of all of them, none more than what he experienced during that first quarter play against the Warriors, his first real taste of the LeBron James Experience.

“Always have your hands up and always be ready,” Korver said. “The only time [James has] gotten mad at me is when I haven’t shot it when he thinks I’m open. He sees passing lanes and how far your defender is from you and if you’re open. It’s a great opportunity for me. I’ve never played with someone who sees the floor and passes like he does.”

Welcome to Cleveland.

  1. He worked out for the Cavaliers before the NBA Draft, but CCC didn’t exist at the time. []