SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- If Kyle Korver suits up but doesn’t hit a 3-pointer, does it really count as a game played?
That was the existential question facing the Cleveland Cavaliers for the past week as the excitement over their surprising acquisition of the former All-Star was heavily subdued by a failure to launch of sorts.
First, Korver’s debut was delayed by Mike Dunleavy having to be persuaded to report to Atlanta by Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer to make the trade official. Then Korver’s initial taste of Cavs basketball was an 0-2 back-to-back through Utah and Portland, with the worst road trip of the season sandwiched in between, as a rare winter storm pounded Rip City with snow.
In those first two games, without the aid of so much as a practice or even a shootaround under his belt, Korver missed eight of the 10 shots he hoisted, going oh-fer in five attempts from 3.
And after nearly a full week with the team, Korver finally got to join the Cavs in a skull session on the court, as coach Tyronn Lue ran an extended shootaround Friday morning, going through set after set with Korver as a part of the second unit for 20 minutes straight to try to give him a chance to play catch-up.
“I still didn’t know what was going on half the time, but I knew what was going on half the time,” Korver said after his 18 points helped Cleveland to a 38-34 advantage in bench scoring. “So that was really helpful.”
While J.R. Smith’s injury made the Korver trade essential in the Cavs’ eyes, it appears that -- at least for now -- he will not be the answer to replacing Smith in the starting lineup. That job went to DeAndre Liggins for a while, and it was beneficial in that it gave Cleveland a chance to evaluate the two-time D-League defensive player of the year enough to feel confident in his NBA abilities. But now that job goes to Iman Shumpert.
When Cleveland salvaged Smith and Shumpert from New York two seasons ago, the initial plan was to start Shumpert at the 2. Only he came to the Cavs nursing a shoulder injury, and Smith started hitting shots right away as the temporary starter. Cleveland didn’t want to rock the boat by making the swap when Shumpert got healthy.
Lue decided to go with Shumpert on Friday, hoping to help shake the three-losses-in-five-games rut his team was in, and it paid off twofold. Not only did Shumpert tie a season high with 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting, but Korver's insertion into the second unit alongside Channing Frye made that group look like a juggernaut with LeBron James joining in the mix.
“It’s something that we did a lot last year, and we want to get back to that,” said James, who tied a season high with 15 assists. “Our second unit was very good for us, not only in the regular season but in the postseason last year, so it was good to get back out there with those guys, and we had a really good feel.”
When the Cavs first agreed to the Korver deal, Lue immediately sent a text message to the sharpshooter.
“He texted me, and he was excited about pulling out his old Ray Allen plays,” Korver said of his new coach. “He’s got a ton of them. So it’s fun.”
James was able to play off of Allen to the tune of two NBA Finals appearances in two years and a championship while with the Miami Heat.
“LeBron is so good at seeing every option of every play, and if someone is overplaying, hopefully something else is open,” Korver said, beaming at the looks that James created for him against the Kings. “He’s just the best at reading that.”
And Korver proved to be better at reading the entire game than maybe people expected him to be. He’s not advertised as a guy who rebounds in traffic, draws offensive fouls on point guards such as Ty Lawson or strips a behemoth like DeMarcus Cousins in transition to prevent layups, but he did all of those things on Friday.
“He’s just a smart basketball player, so we add another guy on our team with a high IQ, and that’s just good to know,” James said.
As Kyrie Irving added about Korver, “I would say this was his first official game.”