Kyle Korver watched from afar as Steve Nash won MVP awards leading a wide-open Phoenix Suns offense. He could not help but be a little envious.
Now, Korver is sure there are other players watching his Hawks with the same feeling.
The sharp-shooting guard is having a career season — at 33 years old and in his 12th NBA season — as a starter in a Hawks system predicated on pace, space and ball movement. They are a perfect match — player and system.
Korver has made the most of his two-plus seasons with the Hawks. Here, he is no longer just a 3-point specialist off the bench.
“A couple of years ago, people really didn’t think I was a starter in the NBA,” Korver said. “We are all benefiting from each other, from the system, from (coach Mike Budenholzer’s) style.”
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Before joining the Hawks via a trade in 2012, Korver played 664 games with the Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls. He stared 110 games, and 100 of those came in his second and third seasons with the 76ers. In the six seasons before he joined the Hawks, Korver started a total of 10 games.
“I think a lot of things have come together,” Korver said. “I played for some really good coaches. I’ve been on some really good team. I learned a lot. Maybe I didn’t play quite as many minutes there, but I just tried to absorb it all and keep on trying to get better. I think my body is the healthiest it’s been in a really long time. I’m in a system that is really perfect for me.
“I remember watching the Suns play and Steve Nash was winning MVPs, and I was like, ‘Man, if I could be on that team, I could really do something.’ I’m sure there are a lot of guys looking at this team now and thinking, ‘Man, if I could be on that team.’”
Korver owns the highest 3-point field goal percentage in NBA history, finishing the 2009-10 season with the Jazz shooting 53.6 percent. He is near that percentage this season through 44 games. He leads the NBA by shooting 53.3 percent, an accuracy rate seven percentage points higher than the second-place shooter. He ranks second in the league in makes (131) while ranking 11th in attempts (246). Only 12 players have a better shooting percentage from the field than Korver has from 3-point range.
It’s all about opportunity. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau lamented recently that he should have played Korver more. Paul Millsap and Korver were together with the Jazz, and Millsap knew what his teammate was capable of if given the chance.
“I think the teams he’s been on, he was relied on to sit in the corner and shoot the basketball,” Millsap said. “With this team, he has a little more freedom to put in on the ground and make plays.”
Following the first season with the Hawks, Korver was an unrestricted free agent and had plenty of offers elsewhere. Hawks center Al Horford, along with Hawks management, worked to convince Korver to return. Horford said there were plenty of phone calls and text messages. It worked. Korver agreed to a four-year, $24 million deal to stay in Atlanta and continue to build. He now is a piece on a team that is 36-8, the best record in the Eastern Conference and second-best in the NBA.
“It’s always really, really hard until you are around someone every day to appreciate the things they can do and how they can help the group come together and fit together,” Budenholzer said. “I’m not sure I probably understood how much Kyle could help us on both ends.”
Korver will be at the All-Star game next month. He has agreed to take part in the 3-point shooting contest. However, there is a chance he could take part in more of the festivities. Several Eastern Conference coaches have said over the past two weeks that Korver will be among the Hawks they include on their All-Star reserve ballot.
The notion is a surprise to Korver.
“I stopped trying to prove everybody wrong a long time ago. It wasn’t good motivation for me. It takes you on an emotional roller coaster if you play that game. But I love basketball. I love team basketball. I love playing hard. I love all the aspects of the game, not just shooting but passing and defense.
“I feel like that’s what we do here. We do all of it, and we do it as a team. I don’t feel like I’m a superstar by any means, but I feel like I’m a great piece. I feel like I’m in a really good situation.”