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Cavaliers get:?Forward Kyle Korver
Quietly over the past year, the Cavaliers have transformed themselves into a team that shoots similarly to the rival Golden State Warriors. So far this season, Cleveland has attempted more of its shots beyond the arc than Golden State (38.7 percent of all attempts, second to the Houston Rockets) and made a better percentage of them (39.1 percent, second to the San Antonio Spurs).
This is a continuation of what the Cavaliers did during last season’s title run. So much for the notion that a jump-shooting team can’t win the championship.
All that happened before Cleveland added Korver, whose 42.9 percent 3-point shooting over his career ranks third among active players behind Stephen Curry and Steve Novak, per Basketball-Reference.com. The Cavaliers could potentially surround LeBron James with four players who shoot at least 39.7 percent from downtown this season (Korver, 2016 deadline pickup Channing Frye, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love). Good luck defending that.
For the most part, Korver will presumably replace the struggling Mike Dunleavy in Cleveland’s rotation while also picking up some minutes from the likes of Jordan McRae and Kay Felder in the short term. Comparing Korver’s shot distribution to Dunleavy’s shows how this trade will make Korver’s life easier.
According to SportVU tracking on NBA.com/stats, just 15.8 percent of Dunleavy’s shots came with the closest defender within 4 feet. By comparison, more than twice as many of Korver’s shots (32.9 percent) were so heavily contested.
Yet Dunleavy hadn’t been able to take advantage of the open looks. Korver surely will. Merely applying his current shooting percentages by nearest defender to Dunleavy’s shot distribution pushes Korver’s 3-point percentage from its current 41.1 percent all the way to 43.6 percent.
A similar concern applies to Korver, who will turn 36 in March. Korver’s down 2015-16 season seemed primarily based on his own offseason surgery (ankle). It’s just not realistic for any player, even one who works as hard as Korver, to maintain career-best level of play into his mid-30s.
I should note that Atlanta has been 13.8 points per 100 possessions better with Korver on the bench this season, according to NBA.com/stats. While it’s hard to believe that offensive improvement with Korver sitting is anything but noise, it’s possible the defensive upgrade is more permanent.
Korver made himself into a capable wing defender with the Hawks (and the Chicago Bulls before them), but at some point his physical limitations might be impossible to overcome. It’s hard to see Korver staying on the court against the Warriors’ starting five, though their bench offers many friendlier hiding spots.
Still, at worst, Korver should be an upgrade on Dunleavy. At best, Cleveland has added another weapon to an offense that already features plenty of them.
Korver could provide the most value over the next couple of months as the Cavaliers navigate J.R. Smith‘s absence. This trade will pay off if Korver’s addition means an extra win for Cleveland that helps hold off the Toronto Raptors for home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.
And even if Korver might not greatly affect a June matchup against the Warriors, he’ll have done his job if he helps Cleveland return to the NBA Finals.
Beyond that, the Cavaliers also managed to shave money off their luxury-tax bill. This deal saves them more than $1 million in salary the rest of the season and more than $3 million in tax payments. It also sheds the $1.6 million Dunleavy had guaranteed for 2017-18. Reaping that financial benefit plus getting Korver for a first-round pick is a coup for Cleveland’s front office.
In a separate deal, the Cavaliers traded their 2017 first-round pick to the Portland Trail Blazers to reacquire the 2018 protected first-round pick they sent to Portland in last year’s Anderson Varejao trade, enabling them to send their 2019 first-rounder to Atlanta. Apparently the Blazers valued having the pick now more than the slim possibility it would be noticeably better in 2018, and it’s hard to see any downside to this move from Cleveland’s perspective.
Less than a week after ESPN’s Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst broke the news that the Hawks were listening to offers for All-Star power forward Paul Millsap, the first domino in Atlanta’s midseason makeover has fallen. And while Korver isn’t nearly as indispensable to the Hawks, it’s hard to read this move as anything but an indication that Millsap’s days are numbered.
In that case, the relevant question here is whether Atlanta could have gotten more for Korver. The market for him seemed to be more in the second round than the first round, though it’s unclear whether that might have heated up near the trade deadline. Most teams could use a shooter like Korver, but given his age and impending free agency, I’m not sure the Hawks were going to do much better than a first-round pick in the 20s at any point.
That being the case, I can see the rationale for moving Korver now and opening up playing time for rookies DeAndre Bembry and Taurean Prince?on the wing. Those youngsters are part of Atlanta’s future, and Korver, good as he was for the Hawks, is not.
The extra salary won’t matter much to Atlanta, which is over the cap but far from the tax line. Taking back both Dunleavy and Williams did force the Hawks to waive forward Ryan Kelly on Friday before his minimum-salary contract became guaranteed for the remainder of the season, but Atlanta can waive Williams and bring back Kelly, provided he clears waivers.