On Wednesday night, the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers kick off the Eastern Conference Finals. It promises to be a fascinating series, with multiple storylines to follow — Horford/Millsap vs. Mozgov/Tristan/Lebron, whose bench can contribute more, etc. — but perhaps the one with the most potential to swing the series is the performance of Hawks sharpshooter Kyle Korver. More specifically, why has it fallen off so dramatically in the playoffs so far, and will it continue into the Conference Finals?
Possibly the most insane stat of the NBA Playoffs so far is that Josh Smith is outshooting Korver from three-point range, 37 percent to 35 percent. Just to be clear, Korver is coming off the ninth-best regular season in NBA history in that category at 49 percent. Josh Smith is not. Korver’s dropoff in these playoffs has been staggering, and it’s a slight surprise the Hawks have advanced twice despite his struggles. Sure, they benefited from playing the Brooklyn Nets in the first round and having John Wall break his hand and wrist against them in the second, but still.
So is Korver’s downturn due to teams preparing better and playing harder to neutralize him? Is he in a slump he could break out of, or is something wrong on a deeper level? The first part is definitely true — according to Synergy sports, Korver’s catch-and-shoot attempts from behind the arc are being contested 79 percent of the time in the playoffs, as opposed to 60 percent in the regular season. But that doesn’t tell the whole story since everyone plays stauncher defense after April.
In the regular season, Korver shot 49.3 percent on contested three-pointers, which is close to inhuman. In the playoffs, that number has plummeted to 30 percent. To put that into context, Korver was in the 98th percentile for converting contested threes in the regular season, and he’s down to the 38th percentile in the playoffs. He’s cratered from an assassin to a below-average shooter when bothered. Not all contests are the same, and you can bet the Wizards and Nets closed out harder in the playoffs than they would have in November, but even accounting for that, his shot chart is baffling.
Just for laughs, and because it makes me sad, here’s Korver’s shot chart from the regular season: