Let’s Argue: Should Kyle Korver Start?

Welcome to Let’s Argue, your weekly opportunity to be #MadOnline. The premise is simple: WFNY’s Mike Hattery and Jeff Nomina will present arguments — maybe just a question or a deep stat dive or a good old fashioned hot take. Then, they will either argue with each other or invite you to come argue with us. This week, Mike and Jeff are starting the argument, but don’t let that stop you for joining in the comment section or coming at us 140 characters at a time on Twitter @SnarkyHatman & @SportsNom.

Mike Hattery: With a cursory understanding of #CavsTwitter significant discussion exists about effectively integrating one Kyle Korver. Though the larger argument exists over whether or not he should be locked into the starting lineup, the central question to answer is what way can the Cavaliers achieve optimal usage of Kyle Korver? This has been a struggle for Ty Lue in the early going as he ran Korver around infinite ball screens to find quick release threes for Korver. In many ways, Lue was creating intricacy that slowed the offense as there Korver will run into plenty of open threes when on the court with some combination of Love,  James and Irving. Indeed, running a Korver-offense for periods of time is a sub-optimal way to integrate him into an offense that will use him heavily as a decoy and spot-up shooter in a finals rematch against Golden State.

The key for Korver as shooting killer is becoming comfortable finding and creating spacing when Lebron and Kyrie go pick and roll or iso in the finals. It is with this emphasis that I will argue for starting Kyle Korver, not because starting is some essential move to elevating this Cavs team in the short term but rather because Korver needs to get used to being a non-primary option with Lebron and Kyrie operating with the ball. One interesting spacing discovery is that the James, Irving, and Love combination has traditionally struggled from the left corner from deep, a sector of the court the Cavs first unit has not wielded effectively. Korver in 2017 and throughout his career is super efficient from that space.

Courtesy of Swish

Courtesy of Swish

Tell me Nom, why shouldn’t Korver be starting?

Nom: Defense. And that’s not an indictment on Korver’s defense, which I think is sometimes overblown. What we’ve learned over the last few seasons is that the Big Three need someone at the shooting guard spot that can defend. The sneaky trick to J.R. Smith unlocking the starting lineup is that he’s played really good defense.

To that point, the Big Three have played 47 minutes with Korver this year. While that is a tiny sample, their offensive rating is 122, an incredible number. But the defensive rating is 124, a similarly spectacular number, but not for the same reasons. And while that sample size is tiny, it bears out in historical context. The Cavs’ starters have had the best results in 181 minutes with DeAndre Liggins playing with the starters, putting up a 28.2 net rating. As Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith have seen regressions in their defense this season (even as Shumpert’s offense has surged), they’ve put up 4.1 and 9.3 net ratings with the starters, respectively. It appears that hitting shots is important for that role, but solid defense has a much larger impact.

And it isn’t just this season that shows that, last year when J.R. Smith was defending at a high level, the starting unit had a net rating of 12.4. But even when you subbed Matthew Dellavedova into that unit, it was plus-22.1 in 70 minutes. With Shumpert at his higher level of defense last year it was plus-13.7 in 124 minutes. That’s not to say those lineups were better than the one with Smith, just that defense-focused two-guards can excel with the starting unit. Hell, if you go back to to the first-half of the 2014-2015 season when everything was a mess and the Cavs were scuffling, it was still the starting lineup featuring Shawn Marion that had a plus-28.4 net rating before the J.R. Smith trade.

But that’s also looking very short-sighted at the right here right now. And as we can see by the effort level of these guys some nights, the right here right now doesn’t matter much. Do you think Korver getting experience with the starting unit is a higher priority than with the bench unit?

Mike: Defense is a strong counter and certainly a substantive concern. Yet, we will toss aside the small sample you cited above. Further, defense is far more reliant on communication and scheme comfort than offensive integration for Korver. Defensive comfort with a new team, new unit takes a lot more time I believe as a new acquisition. Finally, while Korver obviously is on the wrong side of the athleticism aging curve, he offers enough length, effort to not be the liability that the sample above would indicate.

Isn’t the larger discussion whether the Cavs will prefer J.R. Smith or Kyle Korver being the anchor of the second unit in the playoffs? I personally would prefer Smith easing back on the second unit and I like him there because I think his ability to create his own shot is simply better which that unit needs without a decent ball handler. I think the biggest key, starting or not is Korver getting experience with LeBron and Kyrie in order to gain comfort with their preferences and the best way to find soft space resulting from the Cavs driving action.

In the end Nom, is this just picking nits? Are there bad reps for him to get?

Jeff: That’s an interesting point on J.R. being able to create his own shot. There might be some value to putting him on the second unit rather than Korver. But in the end, I don’t think Ty Lue will rock the boat. The starting unit with Smith has shown they can be elite, and I doubt he’ll go away from that just prior to a playoff run. Of course, if J.R. struggles to regain form following his injury, it sure would be nice to know that Korver could step into that role. And those are the reps we’re missing out on by putting guys like Shumpert in the starting lineup for the short-term gain.

But I guess I have less concern with Korver starting or not starting as much as much as the reps he’s getting. To your point, are there bad reps? I’d argue yes. He’s played 70 percent of his minutes with LeBron, and that’s great, because both of them will be part of a playoff rotation. But after that his minutes have mostly been with guys like Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye. He’s played a total of 30 minutes with the starters, where it seems like he could be inserted into that group late in games or before half to get some experience. You’d like to have some chemistry with Kyrie and Love before the playoffs, as the rotation shortens and those guys will be playing way more minutes.

And yet, they had a losing record in January. LeBron’s minutes have been an issue. I understand looking towards the playoffs and thinking exclusively about those reps, but we’re talking about a 14-year vet. He can figure out how to stand there and hit open threes when the starters get him looks. He can learn the defensive scheme. It’s hard to care about these games, but that doesn’t mean we should throw them away, either. If Korver coming off the bench gives us the best outcome right now, that’s fine. There are still 29 games to get this team rounded into form, so there’s no need to panic right now.

What do you think? Should Korver join the starting lineup to get reps with the Big 3? Or should he remain with the bench unit? Answer in the poll below, the comment section, or find us on Twitter.