Kyle Korver never left Utah, not spiritually, and he never truly played in Atlanta. The heavy air quotes “consummate professional” white guy jokes are there, like a bowl of bar-nuts, to use as you please, but really, this is a happy thing: Korver has escaped the Cavs’ sinking ship and arrived in the NBA city that has always and will once again appreciate him best, because 1.) it’s plausible there’s Romney in his bloodline, and 2.) the Jazz are desperate for shooters. At age 37, Korver can’t defend anybody—curiously, neither can anybody else on his new-old squad—but he spaces the floor, makes opponents chase him around screens, and uncorks the odd contest-tilting 15-point performance. You can do worse, as an eighth or ninth man.
Korver’s endurance is an interesting if far from inexplicable phenomenon, and it describes the modern NBA well. As the league has gravitated strongly toward the arc over the past half-decade, a dude who has drained triples at a staggeringly efficient 43.2 percent over the course of his career has remained valuable even as his quickness and lateral movement have more or less zeroed out. We’ve recently learned that most pros can learn how to shoot respectably from long range, but that maneuver where Korver runs around a couple screens, then catches, squares, and fires in one motion—a sudden 90-degree pivot, you’re not even sure he looks at the rim as he does it—is replicable only by a few other special players. The footwork and hand-eye coordination involved are ridiculous. It’s kept him, not just employed, but in by-god NBA rotations for an extra two or three years. If this were 2005, Korver in his current state might be—working as a tax lawyer, maybe? It seems like he could walk into any wood-paneled office and make partner on the spot.
Don’t look now, but is Korver one of the league’s few remaining specialists? There aren’t many single-skill guys kicking around these days; almost everybody is expected to do a few things well. If you’re a rim-protecting five, you can’t be a mere angle-understander like circa 2012 Roy Hibbert. You have to pick and pop or switch onto smaller players. If you’re an astute perimeter defender, you have to be able to knock down a corner three. If you’re a no-defense point guard, you’d better be in Dame Lillard or Kemba Walker’s class as a scorer. Otherwise your ceiling is filling up the stat sheet for a lottery-dweller. But if you can spot up—at that rarefied Korver, J.J. Redick, old man Ray Allen level—and kinda-sorta stand near someone else on the other end of the floor, there’s a place for you on a playoff team.
Teammates and coaches like Korver, that’s part of it too. LeBron James has frozen out as many shooters as he’s made over the course of his career, but in Cleveland he always counted on Korver, finding in the sweet-shooting vet something like a peer, purely in terms of dedication to craft. Korver has an outsize reputation that owes something to his complexion—the basketball press has never run out of breath praising Anthony Morrow, for instance—but there is a romantic aspect to him. He’s spent 16-plus seasons honing a highly specific talent and in doing so has embodied the spirit of esoteric jobs nobody seems to have anymore. He’s a cobbler, a draftsman, a watch repairman fine-tuning the miniature, fingers steady as a pond frozen over. That’s worth something: light reverence, 16 minutes off the bench.
The Jazz are going to need a more substantive solution to their problems. Korver won’t handle the ball, nor will he improve Donovan Mitchell’s shot selection. The One More Year of Derrick Favors gambit isn’t paying off. Rudy Gobert’s looking a little (gulp) defensively exploitable lately. The team is flopping on the deck early in a season they expected to enjoy, and the possibility of them challenging Golden State, at least pushing the presumptive champs to six or seven games in a playoff series, now appears exceedingly slim. This is frustrating, if you’re a Utah fan, but not heartbreaking. Mitchell’s regression, in particular, isn’t something to get too exercised about. It’s okay, at just 22, to still be figuring stuff out. What will serve the beautifully obnoxious Jazz faithful—and what’s more doable than some spectacular turnaround—is a healthy myopia. This squad will improve over the course of the year; they’re better than what they’ve shown. Appreciating the process of the team getting back on its feet will prove satisfying, even if the season turns out a whit disappointing overall.
Kyle Korver’s the perfect kind of player for fans who adopt this along-for-the-ride mindset. Because he is absurdly good at the peculiar thing he does, and it’s something you can develop an appetite for, if you’re watching it on a regular basis. Pundits wondered, once it was clear he was leaving Cleveland, if Korver would end up on the Lakers, but this is better. He’ll find more oxygen and greater affection in Utah. He’s no savior, but he’ll help, in his way, and be thanked for it.