LAS VEGAS—Spend any amount of time around Kyle Korver and you’ll soon realize that the NBA’s premier three-point shooter is also one of the most down-to-earth, genuinely kind people you’ll ever meet.
Korver only spent two seasons in a Bulls uniform, but it seemed like much longer, although since leaving Chicago, he’s distinguished himself as more of a marquee name playing for the Hawks. In Atlanta, Korver is more of a focal point of his team’s offense and last season, set a NBA-record streak for consecutive games with a made three-pointer.
That type of proficiency, along with continuing to improve his underrated all-around game, earned him an invitation to try out for USA Basketball’s FIBA World Cup team, even as he downplays his own status.
“Well, I don’t know if I consider myself an elite player all the way. I think I’m a great fit on a team. I’ve never wanted to be ‘the guy,’ I’ve never tried to be a superstar, but I’ve always tried to be the best teammate. Someone where if you’re going to build a team, you want me on your team. I just try to be a great teammate and just being able to play hard and know that I’ll be there on defense for you and I’ll make the extra pass and when I get shots, I’m going to knock them down and so, I think what’s special for me, just being invited is that they’re trying to make the best team possible. That’s what I’ve been working for my whole career and it’s kind of cool that it comes kind of more towards the end,” explained the 31-year-old, who also has a wry sense of humor and quipped, “Oh, yeah. I don’t think there’s even anybody else who’s 30,” when asked if he was the oldest player in attendance. “This is my 12th year coming up and I’ve never really been part of stuff like this. It’s kind of special for me. I take this serious. I’m trying to do this thing. Not that I see this as the end, and I’m going to keep on trying to grow be better. But it’s kind of a cool thing that it happens more toward the end than in the beginning. I’m not the young guy here who they see as, ‘Down the road, we’re going to throw him in the mix.’”
Participating in the training camp has also afforded Korver an opportunity to reunite with Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, a USA Basketball assistant and ex-teammate Derrick Rose, apparently leading to some good times behind the scenes.
“It’s good. There’s a lot of side jokes. It’s so funny,” Korver said, referencing Thibodeau’s penchant for having the Bulls do defensive close-out drills in practice daily. “Well, that’s one of the side jokes with me and Derrick, right? Like getting ready for them. It’s good. Thibs got on me a couple times the other day. I was just like, ‘This is good. I like it.’ Bringing me back. No, but it’s good, man. I was telling Thibs some of the calls on defense that are so drilled into my mind that I still say them in Atlanta, even though it’s the wrong call. We were joking about that earlier. So yeah, it’s good.”
Another very familiar face for Korver is fellow Select Team player Doug McDermott, the Bulls’ first-round draft pick and who many observers compare to Korver, a fellow Creighton product.
“I haven’t really heard too much of that. I don’t know. I was only in Chicago for like two days and I didn’t really talk to people about that. There’s easy comparisons to make. We’ve got a similar skill set, although he’s got some post game that I don’t have. We come from the same school, we’re about the same size, all that. It’s easy to say that, but he’s his own person and he’s got his own things to his game that I don’t have and he’s going to do a great job for you guys. He’s really excited to be there,” Korver said. “He’s going to learn so much from Thibs. Early on in my career, I wish I would have had someone like Thibs to show me how to play really good team defense. That would have helped me a ton in my career. I feel like a lot of the success I’ve had the last couple of years is because of what I learned in Chicago. I felt like a lot of things have came together for me the last couple years. Being there with Thibs and learning how to play defense and being in an awesome, championship-caliber culture was really big for me. So Doug’s going to get that right now, like right at the very beginning, and it’s only going to do great things for his career.”
“He takes the game very serious. He plays with a chip on his shoulder. He plays with an edge. He wants to be really good and he’s going to work for it. He doesn’t just want it, he wants to work for it. He’s got a great skill set obviously, how he can shoot and how he sees the floor. He dealt with every kind of defense. He’s been prepared for the NBA in so many ways, just in how he was guarded all the time, the pressure that was on him in Omaha, at Creighton. He’s a younger guy, but emotionally, he’s very mature,” he continued. “You learn how to play with the basketball stuff. I think for him, just being in a smaller town, obviously Creighton went to the next level, all the expectations for him, and he handled it with such class and such grace. I think a lot of the learning curve when you come into the NBA is learning emotionally how to deal with everything that’s going on. He’s got to learn how to deal with Thibs every day. It’s a lot. The thing I told him is you don’t have to drive that traffic every day. I can go back and do either Thibs or the traffic, but I could never do both again. I was like, ‘You don’t know how good you have it.’”
All jokes aside, Korver truly believes that McDermott will thrive in the NBA, though he didn’t necessarily recognize it until the younger player’s senior campaign.
“Probably not until this last year. He’s put up big numbers his whole career obviously. He’s scored a whole lot of points. But it wasn’t until this last year that I really saw that Doug’s not just going to get drafted, he’s going to be a player. I think he’s believed that whole time and he just kept on working. But I’d say in the last year that he’s going to be a legit, real good player,” Korver said. “He’s going to be great. He’s on a great team for him to fit in well. There’s a real need for his skill set. He’s going to learn how to play defense. He’s going to have Jimmy [Butler] taking the No. 1 guy. He’ll get the second guy. There’s no two and three in Thibs’ offense. You’re the guy who’s coming off the doubles [screens] or you’re the guy who’s not coming off the doubles almost for the wing. He’s going to be the guy coming off the doubles and he’s going to be able to shoot that thing, and put a lot of pressure on the defense and you guys have added a lot of pieces. So he’s got a really good feel for the game. He got the ball a lot at Creighton, but it wasn’t like him getting the ball and holding it, making a one-on-one move. He learned to play without the ball and that’s so important in Thibs’ offense. You can’t have everybody be a drive-and-kick guy. You have to have shooting. You have to have the guy who shoots the ball after the drive and he’s going to be able to do that.”
Sounds like, just maybe, Korver’s speaking from experience.