“I’ve thought about that: Is it an age thing? I’ve actually thought about that a lot. I don’t think so. But you watch guys around the NBA and you think: What it does it look like? Is it a gradual thing? Or do you just all of a sudden fall off?”
It was late Wednesday night following a game and the Hawks’ shooting guard said he feels great, the standard postgame visual of his knees wrapped in ice bags notwithstanding. Look great? No. Feel great? Yes.
Korver’s right ankle, which succumbed to Matthew Dellavedova’s undercutting, bowling-ball-like rugby dive for the ball in last season’s Eastern Conference finals, required surgery to ruptured ligaments. But it “feels great.”
Korver’s right elbow, which throbbed increasingly in the second half of last season and the playoffs, required surgery to remove two bone spurs (inside and outside the elbow) and multiple bone fragments. But it also “feels great.”
But his shooting so far this season is not great, and that’s something only time, not surgery, can fix. Korver made two of four 3-point attempts in Wednesday’s win over the Philadelphia 76ers, who hope to be back in the NBA again one day. But that raised his season shooting percentage outside the arc to .400 (48-of-120) for the season, a significant drop from .492 last season, and .472 the year before, and .457 the year before that, and almost every season of his career.
This is no minor problem because the Hawks, who’ve stumbled out of the gate to a 15-12 start after going 60-22 last season, are largely dependent on their 3-point shooting, and therefore largely dependent on Korver. With two-thirds of the schedule to play, the concern is not quite at DEFCON-1 level yet, but there’s uneasiness.
“When I’ve had conversations with Kyle, he feels good, and he feels like he’s in a good place,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “It’s going to take time. He works so hard in the summer, he puts in so much time and effort, and it wasn’t a normal summer for him. There were two or three months of lost time.”
The ankle surgery was May 27. The elbow surgery was June 30. Korver normally rests for a month off after the season, then begins shooting drills for one to two hours a day. But this year, he said, “It was September before I could shoot without pain. Then I came (to Atlanta), and it was a week and a half before the season started.”
Korver said this isn’t a case of an older player breaking down. The elbow surgery, while obviously needed, messed him up in two ways, limiting his offseason prep and taking away needed time to re-adjust his shooting motion. Korver wore a compression band on his elbow to limit the pain last season, and he had to change his technique.
“I had to generate a lot of momentum with a big dip and really bringing the ball up,” he said. “It slowed down my shot and gave defenders more time to get to it.”
He’s no an excuse-maker, but that was the reality. The problems were illustrated in the postseason, when his 3-point percentage dropped from .492 in the regular season to .355 in the playoffs, including .312 in the second round against Washington. He’s searching for normalcy again.
“I’m kind of caught between two shots,” he said. “I’m locking in on my mechanics, thinking about something when I’m shooting the ball, and it’s weird. But I feel like things are starting to come together. You’ve just got to have grace for yourself.”
The Hawks will give him time. They have no choice. They’re a poor rebounding team that isn’t playing with the rhythm or consistency it did a year ago. Budenholzer said when Korver “shakes free and does knock (shots) in, it just creates more opportunities for our whole group, and it gives him confidence and juice.”
Until that happens again, the Hawks will struggle.