Somehow, Kyle Korver outlasted the “Kyle Korver looks like Ashton Kutcher” jokes. It’s not that Korver and Kutcher don’t look alike anymore—neither Kutcher nor Korver appears to have physically aged in the past 15 years.
It’s just that back when the zing-compliments first began for Korver, Kutcher was a common reference point—That ’70s Show was one of the more popular network TV sitcoms, we all thought Punk’d was funny for some reason, and The Butterfly Effect opened at no. 1 at the box office during Korver’s rookie season. Now, Kutcher hasn’t been a lead in a movie in five years—although he stars in a show Netflix always tells me to watch—and Korver is more relevant than ever. In 2015, he became the fourth-oldest player ever to make the All-Star Game for the first time, and last year, he made the NBA Finals for the first time. And if the Cavaliers are going to make it back to the championship series, they’ll need Korver to remain effective at 37 years old.
Yes, Korver is 37. Even Cavs coach Tyronn Lue has a hard time believing it.
Tyronn Lue didn't realize just how old Kyle Korver is pic.twitter.com/BhFP7ZLfcP— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) May 22, 2018
Korver has been in the NBA long enough to have been friends with Lue’s worst enemy, Allen Iverson. Though Korver ranked among the best shooters from the jump, he failed to crack 40 percent from 3 in half of his first six years in the NBA. In his seventh, he broke the all-time record for 3-point percentage, shooting a stunning 53.6 percent for the Jazz, and he’s dipped below 40 only once since. (He shot 39.3 percent from deep in 2015-16.)
LeBron James was born to play with excellent shooters. He drives, and an entire defense is sucked in by the gravity of a 6-foot-8, 250-pound man with a penchant for posters. But LeBron is also one of the greatest passers of all time, capable of whipping balls with speed and accuracy across his body right to a newly open shooter.
In his first stint in Cleveland, the shooters were Damon Jones, Daniel “Boobie” Gibson, and Wally Szczerbiak; LeBron still sometimes wakes up in a cold sweat thinking about those days. In Miami, James stopped messing around, going out and getting Ray Freakin’ Allen to join the team, not to mention Mike Miller and Rashard Lewis. James Jones and Eddie House (for a season) sat all the way at the end of the bench in case the first three shooters got hurt or tired or bored.
Miller and Jones followed LeBron to Cleveland, but it wasn’t the same. The Cavs added J.R. Smith, who has shot well, but, like, do you really want J.R. Smith to be the guy you count on? Luckily, in 2017, the Hawks were flirting with a fire sale and could afford to give up Korver, who had led the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage in two of the previous three seasons. Korver shot 48.5 percent from 3 after joining the Cavs last January, and his combined season total of 45.1 percent was good enough to lead the league again.
Right now, virtually everybody on the Cavs roster is letting LeBron down in some way. But not Korver, whose jumper is still purer than Lake Erie. (Wait, is that a compliment?) Korver had by far the best plus-minus on the Cavaliers among players with the team the entire season (3.8). The Cavs are six points per 100 possessions better than their opponent in the playoffs when he’s been on the court. He had 4-for-5 and 4-for-6 3-point-shooting games against the Raptors, and a 4-for-4 Game 3 against the Celtics.
But Korver isn’t just drilling 3s like he always has. He’s also providing surprising defensive gas. He stunningly swatted Jaylen Brown not one, not two, but three times in Game 4:
This is crazy Kyle Korver really got Jaylen Brown out here looking like Papa Doc after Eminem exposes Cranbrook pic.twitter.com/NN7LvJOJn3— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) May 22, 2018
Celtics players are shooting just 8-for-28 with Korver guarding them in the past three games, per ESPN. This from a player whose defense is best remembered for when he literally cowered in the face of opposing players.
We’re in an era when everybody knows that the 3 is the most valuable shot, and in this era, everybody shoots 3s. That means teams want 3-and-D players, not guys like Korver, who, for much of his career, was a “3-and-uhh-I’m-tall-I-guess” player.
But Korver is somehow adapting. Last year, he swatted the hell out of Thabo Sefolosha, and this year, the Cavs had a defensive rating of 104.2 with Korver on the court—the second best on the team among major contributors. That number shot up to 113.1 when he left the court, with the Cavs defense suffering more than their offense without him.
Korver’s reputation as one of the best shooters in NBA history would be settled regardless of how he performed this postseason. (He’s sixth-best all-time in terms of 3-point percentage.) But a decade and a half deep into his career, he’s playing some of his best basketball. He’s as sharp a shooter as ever, his defense has been acceptable—arguably good—and he’s hoping to top off his career with a championship. The Cavs will need him to pull it off.