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The Fundamentals: Kyle Korver endures shooting slump, finds form

Kyle Korver has found his form after small tweaks threw his shot off center. 

Every jump shot is an ecosystem unto itself. The living components that give it form are rather fickle in nature—legs that grow tired, arms that can be rushed, a core that might waver. When any one element is out of sync, the others must compensate. If they don’t, the shooter loses the equilibrium of his release and sparks a flicker of doubt. So delicate is the jumper that even years of muscle memory cannot fully protect it from the variability of the moment. Elite shooters strive to control as many variables as possible because they know that in the heat of a game, every single shot that goes up will rely on its own delicate balance and be subject to the potential for organic flaw.

Hawks wingman Kyle Korver reeled earlier this season when he saw the structure of his shot perturbed. A May procedure on his ankle, a June surgery on his elbow, and a considered alteration of his shooting mechanics left Korver, one of the top shooters in the world, unable to hit even even the clearest of looks. The downturn in his shooting percentages was troubling. For as trustworthy as Korver’s stroke has been, there are certain implications when a 34-year-old specialist struggles to find his game after two surgeries. Other NBA careers have trailed off with less warning.

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Then, around the turn of the calendar year, something clicked. It was Korver’s patience with his revised mechanics—the physical manifestation of an exceptional shooter who had dared to mess with a good thing. Players in the league are consistently nudged to address their weaknesses and hone their strengths. Any particularly bold approach to those tasks risks throwing the player’s game off its center. The exact shift in Korver’s shot is a matter of inches. Yet it was so significant to Korver’s process and desired result that he characterized it as a sort of reboot.

"My challenge was that I was trying to—and I don't want to over-talk about it—I was trying to develop a different shot, kind of,” Korver said, per This aligns with what Korver told’s Tom Haberstroh before the season when he described the adjustment process as “re-learning how to shoot.”

Consider that notion. The league leader in three-point percentage for two years running had decided to overhaul his release just months after undergoing two separate surgeries. The thinking, as laid out in Haberstroh’s story, was that Korver’s repaired elbow would be able to supply more power and therefore reduce the need for a dip at the beginning of Korver’s shot. The ball would start higher and flow upward into the shooting motion as quickly as possible—shrinking the window for an opponent’s contest even further.

The results, at first, were passable. Korver shot 43.7% from three-point range in November, which could be explained away as an orientation to the new form. December, however, brought the cold; the end of the calendar year marked one of the worst shooting stretches of Korver’s career. Over a seven-game stretch at the turn of the calendar year, Korver went a ghastly 7-of-44 (15.9%) on shots from beyond the arc.

Every shooter goes through challenging spells. For Korver, however, that kind of sustained breakdown was almost unthinkable. This was a marksman who had converted 40% or more of his three-pointers in nine of his 12 NBA seasons to that point. In each of the four years prior he had finished top five in three-point percentage. Korver’s form was fast and repeatable, his success clear and empirical.

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Strangest of all: During that six-game nadir, Korver came up empty on virtually all of his open shots. This wasn’t a matter of an aging Korver losing his edge on NBA defenders. One of the most dangerous three-point shooters in recent NBA history went a shocking 1-for-12 on attempts in which there was no defender within six feet, according to It was that stretch that seemed to push Korver to his breaking point. 

The new release is out. Here is Korver now, lining up an attempt with as significant a dip in his shot as ever:

It’s remarkable that Korver has been able to revert to his previous form with relative ease after spending months overwriting that very tendency. Bringing overt thought into the mind of a shooter—like the kind needed to clear away an engrained adjustment—can be a recipe for disaster in some cases. Korver, for whatever reason, seems to have managed it well. His shooting numbers are trending up across the board of late, tracking more closely with the career marks he set last season. Most promisingly: Korver is connecting on his open shots again, acing those free-and-clear threes at a clip of 47.1%. 

That’s a figure more deserving of Korver’s reputation. No opponent dared to take Korver’s shooting slump as some exploitable weakness; scouting reports still pushed opponents to guard the 2014–15 All-Star as closely as possible. If anything, Korver now faces a burden of proof to show that he can get the better of permanent, dedicated coverage in a way his nagging elbow wouldn’t allow last May. Atlanta’s fate this season hinges on his mechanical resilience. It makes sense, then, that with his season at its tipping point, Korver would put his faith in the familiar. 

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