Some things get better with age, but some things don’t and basketball players aren’t supposed to improve into their mid-thirties. Just don’t tell the Hawks Kyle Korver, he turned a page when he was traded to Atlanta for cash at age 31 and just kept getting better. In a week from now on March 17, Korver turns 35 and he may be playing his best ball ever right now.
A prolific and outstanding three-point shooter over his 13 NBA seasons, Korver raised his three-point average from the superior 43.5 percent he shot in his last season with the Bulls to 45.7 percent in his first year with the Hawks and he wasn’t done there. The next year he led the NBA at 47.2 percent and upped it again the season he turned 34-years-old to 49.2 percent to lead the league again.
This year injuries kept him from his usual summer conditioning program and he started the season shooting only a typically acceptable 37 percent from deep for the first three months, but he got back on track in February at 42.3 percent and has been on fire from three-point range so far in March at 52.2 percent.
“I think (Korver’s) just getting more comfortable,” Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. “When you miss a summer of training the way he trains and the amount of time and effort he puts into his body, I think that may have had something to do with it. You just got to get your legs. He’s big on his strength and all those things. So, when I think he’s playing well he’s got great legs, great strength and I think that transfers to his shot.”
“(Korver) is a guy you have to pay attention to because he’s smart,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “He’s one of the best in the league at getting open. You got to stay on high alert.
“Everybody talks about Steph Curry’s range, this guys range is off the charts also.”
What often gets overlooked because of his offense is that since his arrival in Atlanta, Korver’s defense has gotten a lot better. Often picked on by opposing wings and guards looking to get him on an island earlier in his career, Korver has really stepped up his defensive presence. He’s a lot harder to score on now.
“He’s not only improved offensively but at the defensive end,” Korver’s All-Star teammate Al Horford told Pro Bball Report. “I feel that is probably where his biggest improvement is. He helps rebounding the ball a lot. I feel those are areas that really go unnoticed when you talk about Kyle.
“He is a much better defensive player and here we help each other and he’s usually doing a lot of the helping. He doesn’t need to be helped much anymore.”
But how does an established 10-plus year NBA veteran improve his game pretty dramatically and keep improving it to age 35?
“Two things,” Horford said. “One has to do with Kyle’s work ethic and will to keep improving as a player and the other I feel it has to do with him having coaches that really give him the freedom to move around on offense and having the freedom to shoot threes and just play has helped him.
“He’s just a very smart player and takes care of his body real well and he just figures out ways to be efficient. ”
“I think it’s a credit to the work he puts in,” Budenholzer said. “Whether it be training with his body in the summer or the amount of time he puts in before and after practice, film study. I think he really believes that you can get better every day and your age doesn’t necessarily dictate that you can’t improve and grow your game. He’s bought into player development. He’s just a heck of a worker, a heck of a player.”
There is another, less popular explanation. The NBA is often described as a young man’s game where speed and athleticism are praised and the basketball I.Q. and skills that come with longevity are not always valued as highly. Korver is one of the exceptions to the rule.
“The game slow(ed) down for him,” Casey explained. “You get smarter (with age). That’s something that is overlooked in this game is how smart guys become and just know angles, time score situations. Game really really slows down for them and I think it makes it easier for a great shooter like that.”
“He understands the game,” Raptors 35-year-old veteran forward Luis Scola said. “He seems to be a very smart player, so he understands what the game is about. He has found a way to (adjust) his game to what’s best in today’s NBA and he got a little lucky – lucky is a bad word because it seems to take some of the credit from him, but the league became crazy about three-point shooting within the last three or four years.
“It’s an obsession, everybody wants three-point shooters and being such a good three-point shooter he found a way to play being a shooter. A lot of shooters, they don’t get their own shots, (but) he finds a way to get his own shots and in today’s NBA that’s just a huge thing. The game went in his direction and he took it to the next level.”
One of the reasons the NBA often is a young man’s game is the speed and athleticism that gives players a natural advantage declines with age. For most, those gifts don’t last. It’s the veterans that take care of their bodies and rely on their skills and smarts like Korver who can survive, thrive and even improve well into their thirties.