Milwaukee Bucks: Kyle Korver’s off-ball defense deserves recognition

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 04 (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 04 (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Kyle Korver stands as one of the deadliest sharpshooters in league history, but his defensive effort and hustle has been a consistent sight with the Milwaukee Bucks.

There was no mystery behind why the Milwaukee Bucks brought in Kyle Korver last summer.

As one of the most lethal 3-point shooters in NBA history, Korver’s long-standing sniping from beyond the arc was exactly what the Bucks needed on the wing as they looked to replicate their formula for success following their 60-win season and run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2018-19.

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Of course, Korver’s veteran experience and leadership filled out the appeal of bringing him in a few weeks into free agency as the Bucks did. The 39-year-old has certainly brought all of that and then some as his active defensive work has been an added bonus for the NBA’s best team.

Korver’s overall defensive services have gotten an unfair reputation as he’s mostly been pigeonholed as a shooter, but there certainly have been more questions the longer his career has gone on and as he nears 40 years old.

Those concerns grew louder after his return to playing for the Utah Jazz last season was hindered by injury and disappointment following their first-round exit to the Houston Rockets, and Korver was even left weighing the prospect of retiring from his NBA career.

Yet, as all of the questions gravitated towards Korver’s athletic abilities and how much they would hold up on the defensive end, Korver’s combination of intelligence and ever-spry mobility still carried him to being a solid cog on that side of the ball in Milwaukee.

Per, the Bucks allowed a mere 102.7 points per 100 possessions in the 833 minutes Korver saw the floor this 2019-20 regular season. That’s higher than the 99.8 points per 100 possessions the Bucks surrendered with Korver on the floor, but the mark with the 17-year veteran would still top the NBA in defensive efficiency.

Many of the qualities and natural gifts that make Korver a special marksman have helped him to make a better defensive pest than he’s given credit for too.

For instance, Korver’s anticipation, positioning and length have made him a capable and sometimes disruptive defender, the kind of which is tailor-made within the Bucks’ defensive scheme. The timing and hustle that Korver displays in defending players off the ball certainly mirrors just how opposing players view him and want to limit his marksmanship.

All of that helped him average 2.2 deflections per 36 minutes and per Basketball-Reference, Korver tallied a 1.3 block percentage and a 1.2 steal percentage for the year.

Korver’s defensive abilities go beyond just making action plays as he’s learned the ways of being a strong team defender, especially under Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer, whom he previously played for while with the Atlanta Hawks from 2013 to 2017 before joining the Bucks this season.

Korver’s lamenting of just being labeled as a shooter while the rest of his game goes overlooked is nothing new at this point, regardless of what stage he’s at in his career. But Korver has held a certain pride in being a more complete player than he’s given credit for. Take his words to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Matt Velazquez following the Bucks’ streak-busting loss to the Dallas Mavericks back in mid-December as an example:

"“You want to play defense, you want to make passes, you want to set screens. I like the whole game. I like shooting, don’t get me wrong, but I like basketball. To feel like I was involved in more plays than just a couple catch-and-shoots is good for me.”"

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Korver’s extraordinary 3-point shooting has been the key to him surviving in the NBA for as long as he has, but he certainly possesses a complementary set of skills and abilities that still make him a valuable rotation piece for an imposing team like the Bucks.