Shooting is a science, but also an art, and Kyle Korver has always appreciated the unique gifts of the other masters with magical wrists. Just the same, he never modeled himself after any particular one, and has never liked it much when some college or NBA shooter is compared to someone else.
"I don't like trying to be the next anybody else," Korver told Bleacher Report. "But there's definitely a ton of guys that I loved watching. I loved watching Ray [Allen]. I loved watching Reggie [Miller]—I got to play against him for a year or two—and just how he moved without the basketball. I loved watching Rip Hamilton with the floppy action, and how they worked every bit of floppy to death. On the Philly teams, I was getting smacked by that floppy action. I loved Peja [Stojakovic]. I loved the corner action they ran in Sacramento. That was so fun."
"I love watching the guys (in Golden State)—Klay [Thompson] and Steph [Curry]. They are so fun to watch. It's not necessarily that I'm trying to incorporate their game into mine, because I feel like I'm a different person and player and body type."
But the shooter everyone in the NBA is watching most closely this season is an unassuming 33-year-old—34 in March—playing for his fourth NBA team, who has come off the bench for two-thirds of his professional games, and who will now be an All-Star for the first time.
That would be Kyle Korver.
"He's having the best shooting season in the league's history," said Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who then saw it in person when Korver made 5-of-9 three-pointers against his team on Feb. 6.
Empirically, Kerr's assertion isn't an exaggeration.
Since the NBA added the three-point shot in 1979, only six men have finished a season above the 50-40-90 lines—50 percent from the field overall, 40 percent from behind the three-point arc, 90 percent from the free-throw line. Those six have accomplished this feat a total of 10 times: four for Steve Nash, two for Larry Bird and one apiece for Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant.
Others have come close, kept out of the club because of a few percentage points in a single category, with no rounding up allowed. Others haven't qualified because they didn't accumulate enough field-goal, three-point or free-throw attempts.
Not even the remarkable Allen, who constantly preaches it as the benchmark for shooting efficiency, has accomplished it, since he has never topped 49.1 from the field.
Bleacher Report connected with five—all but the sidelined-for-the-season Nash—of the six for their thoughts on what Korver has accomplished thus far in 2014-15, threatening to become the first player to post a 50-50-90 season. Entering the All-Star break, Korver was at 51.2 percent on field goals overall, 52.3 percent on three-pointers and 91.1 percent from the line.
That quintet of swishing royalty—Bird, Price, Miller, Nowitzki, Durant—is more than impressed.
More like overwhelmed.
In nine of his 12 NBA seasons, including this one, Korver shot at least 40 percent from three-point range. Once, back in 2009-10 with the Utah Jazz, he shot 53.6 percent.
In four of his 12 seasons, Korver shot at least 90 percent from the line.
But it's been that first category—field-goal percentage—that has made 50-40-90 elusive.
"It's kind of like when you're young and you do the presidential fitness testing, and no matter how you do on some things, there's always pull-ups," Korver said. "I don't shoot that many layups; I very rarely shoot them. So the 50 percent field-goal percentage has always just kind of been really far out there for me. I probably need my three-point percentage to be at 50 for me to have a chance for my field-goal percentage to be at 50. And that's only happened a couple of times. Obviously, it's a great goal, but I think my shot chart looks a lot different than most people who do the 50-40-90."
It's quite different. Bird, Miller, Nowitzki and Durant were all the primary scorers for their respective teams in the seasons that they achieved 50-40-90. Price tied for the Cavaliers' scoring lead with Brad Daugherty, and Nash had the ball in his hands much more than Korver does during his four 50-40-90 seasons, averaging nearly three times as many two-point attempts per game as Korver does.
But like many who have achieved the 50-40-90 feat, Korver didn't set that, let alone 50-50-90, as a specific goal.
Even as recently as 20 years ago, few basketball people talked in those terms.
Fifty? Forty? Ninety?
"I didn't really know about it until somebody told me that very few guys had ever done it, or anybody had ever done it," said Bird, now the Indiana Pacers president, who accomplished it in 1986-87 and 1987-88. "I'd never even heard about it."
Price never pondered it either, prior to joining Bird in the club in 1988-89.
"Not really," said Price, now a Charlotte Hornets assistant. "I just kind of assumed those were the kind of numbers I should be shooting. I always felt that I was a 50 percent shooter from the floor, and over 40 from the three, and 90 from the line. That was definitely an expectation that I put on myself. Obviously, you didn't do it every year. But those were the kind of numbers that I shot for."
And yet, now, Price says he has "a lot of pride" in being "grouped with some of the greatest players and shooters who have come through the league."
Miller did it in 1993-94 but, also, not by design. "Never set out in my career to achieve 50-40-90, nor did I know Price and Bird had done it," said Miller, now a TNT analyst. "I was just trying to be efficient in my game."
By the time Nash, Nowitzki and Durant emerged, the basketball community had begun to focus a bit more on quality over quantity when it came to statistical analysis. So had players. Still, Nowitzki said while he "was aware of the exclusivity of the 50-40-90 club, because it is a hard thing to do," he never discussed it with his close friend Nash before or after the then-Suns point guard first did it in 2005-06.
"I never really set a goal to try to do it. It was just the byproduct of a good season."
That "good" season came in 2006-07: Nowitzki shot 50.2 percent from the field, 41.6 percent from three, and 90.4 percent from the line in winning the MVP. "It's definitely, I think, a great accomplishment," Nowitzki said. "But I just think it's something that happens when you have a great shooting year."
Durant has had those since he entered the NBA in 2007-08. In his sixth season, he became the same member.
Was he conscious of it?
"Yeah, I knew," the Thunder star said. "I knew. I'm big on watching guys and seeing their efficiency and how they score, and how easy they score. Those guys [like] Steve Nash. Dirk. Larry Bird. Mark Price. Guys like that. I'm sure Korver's going to be in that same group. You can appreciate guys who really try to perfect their skill set and their craft.
"It felt good, it felt really cool to be a part of something like that, even though a lot of people don't know too much about it. But as a basketball player, and as a real basketball guy, you know how tough that it is to do. So, yeah, it feels good to be in that company. It's one of those weird stats that only basketball junkies would know."
What makes the feat especially challenging is that it's not a single accomplishment but composed of three different stats, each with its own variables and obstacles. The difficulty of excelling in each of those stats is entirely dependent on the style and preference of the shooter.
For Price, as for Korver, field-goal percentage was the toughest. In his career, the former Cavaliers point guard shot 47.2 percent from the field while hitting 40.2 percent from three-point range and 90.4 percent from the line. "The 50 percent from the floor, particularly when you're a guard, is a tough number to get to," Price said. "If you're a guard who scores a lot in the paint, or at the basket, [it may be easy], but that wasn't one of my games. All of my shots were pretty much jump shots."
Nowitzki, while classifying all three percentages as "really hard" to reach, also identified 50 percent from the field as the most difficult, as evidenced by his reaching it just twice in his 17-season NBA career. (He's been above 40 percent from three-point range four times and above 90 percent from the line three times.)
"Free throws might be the easiest, if you are a good free-throw shooter," Nowitzki said. "But then that year, in 2006-07, I got to the line so many times (551), that it's hard to keep a good percentage. ...But honestly, I think to shoot 50 [percent] from the field, if you are primarily a jump-shooter, is really tough. There are a lot of centers in this league that shoot 50, 60 percent, but if you are strictly a jump-shooter, 50 percent is extremely hard. Probably the easiest is the 40 on the three-pointers, because a good shooter should shoot 40 percent from three."
Not for Durant.
"I think the 40 percent three-point shooting is the toughest," Durant said. "Especially when you don't shoot open threes, all your threes are either halfway contested or contested. I think that's why Korver would be the most impressive one if he makes it. Because everybody knows he's shooting threes. That's what he does. That he still gets it off at a 50 percent clip is unreal."
Korver says shooting 40 percent from three feels the most attainable, even with teams gearing up for him. "I have always felt like teams have tried to make it hard on me throughout my whole career," Korver said. "Probably more so now, I suppose. This is kind of a nightly thing. A lot of times it's just a strong face guard, and really trying to deny the ball and crowd me and play me physical. I get trapped a lot when I come off screens. Very rarely do I just get to come off and make an easy basketball play. There's usually something there."
The same was true for Miller, but that wasn't the only reason that he felt making 40 percent from long range was "the hardest number to achieve." Volume, too. Miller shot 4.7 threes per game over the course of his 18-season career.
"I always shot a lot of threes so, of course, staying above 40 percent is difficult," Miller said. "Easiest, of course, is free-throw percentage (over 90)."
And yet, he topped the 40 percent mark from three 10 times and 90 percent from the line eight times.
Bird shot over 40 percent from three in six of his 12 healthy seasons, even though he "never did really like it."
"So I didn't spend a lot of time practicing it," Bird said. The only time I really ever spent time practicing [it] was right before the three-point contest."
And this may come as a bit of a surprise, considering he shot 88.6 percent from the free-throw line for his career, just two ticks behind Miller's 88.8.
"The thing I always say is that 50-40 is not that hard—it's the free-throw percentage," Bird said. "You can't miss very many of 'em. I mean, shooting 90 percent at the line is not easy. Especially when you take a number of them. I don't know how many I took in a season, but I shot probably five or six a game."
His memory is as sound as his stroke: He shot 5.0 per game over his career.
"If you get in a streak where you miss two in a row, then you've got to hit your next 18 in a row to come out 90 percent," Bird said. "I've always been amazed at free-throw shooting, especially the percentages...I spent a lot of time on it. Not like most guys who would go out and shoot 10 at practice, I'd try to shoot 100 as often as I possibly could."
Korver is at the other extreme from Bird, in terms of free-throw opportunities. He has taken only 1.7 per game this season, which is actually above his career average (1.4). Still, he agrees with Bird on free throws being "a big challenge," if for the opposite reason.
"For me, if I miss three in a month, I might be at 85 percent," Korver said. "So free throws are definitely a challenge, just because I don't shoot that many of them. I always think, you can shoot as many as you want in practice, but you need to have some game free throws, to keep you in rhythm for the game."
Instead, since Korver doesn't attack the basket much, he rarely gets to take two free throws at a time, and rarely in comfortable situations. "Usually it's at the end of the game, with the game on the line, when we are getting the ball in-bounds, or they are technicals," Korver said. "And those aren't the easy free throws. For whatever reason, the technical free throw seems to be a little bit different than the other ones, and the end of the game, there's always pressure. So free throws are definitely tough."
That has led to some terribly tough misses of the 50-40-90 mark. As Korver says, "There have been a few guys who have gotten 50-40 or even 50-50, but the free throws are there at the end."
The most notable?
Nash in 2006-07, as he tried to repeat the feat.
He made 53.2 percent of his field goals and 45.5 percent of his three-point attempts. But he made 222 of his 247 foul shots, which put him at 89.88 percent. Had he hit 223, he would have finished at 90.28 percent.
That's how slim a shooter's margin can be.
So, why Korver?
And why now?
"I think it's a combination of a lot of things," Korver said.
Start with this: He does believes that he's the best he's been. But it's not only that.
"It kind of feels like a lot of things have come together here in Atlanta, between being better, being healthier and then playing in a system where what I provide is a unique piece to our puzzle," Korver said. "Because we spread the floor, we play with the pass. It's hard, if we try to put whoever is guarding me in that spot where they've got to help a lot, how do we utilize that. It puts a lot of pressure on the defense."
His preparation is legendary, with a 20-point checklist for the perfect shooting form. "I've always gotten up shots and shots and shots," he said. But he has altered his routine some from previous stops to account for the sort of shots he'll get in Atlanta's system.
Bird marvels at Korver's consistency and assumes Korver is shooting with great confidence.
"And probably, for his threes, he's probably getting better looks because they are a better team," Bird said. "They are moving the ball better, and he's getting better looks. He's always been a great shooter. Great at creating space. He's able to do that a lot better the last few years than he did early in his career. If you have a shot like his, that he has confidence in, he's going to shoot a high percentage on all three of them."
The Hall of Fame forward is, like many, a fan of Korver's form.
"When I think of shooting, I think of the elbow and the release point, the follow-through," Bird said. "Both of his look like they are set in a perfect position. Mine was always over to the side, but I could control it a lot better over there and I could see a lot better. I think, when you're watching it, he shoots the same shot all the time. His elbow is never sticking out, and it's never too far out. It's always in the same position. He's going to have consistency with the form that he has."
But the consistency for 50-50-90?
There's no question that Korver has some factors in his favor, including playing in an offensive era.
"Definitely, the rules have changed and made it a little more free-flowing and [helps] your ability to get to spots on the floor without as much resistance," Price said. "So yeah, I think it was probably a little tougher to get it with the rules that we played with."
Even so, Price calls Korver's current numbers "incredible" and "mind-boggling," especially the 50 percent from three-point range.
"And how consistently he's done it all season long," Price said. "I mean, I think somebody said he's got a chance to have the best shooting season of all time."
Kerr is just one of them, and he coaches the Splash Brothers, Curry and Thompson.
"And I think it'd be hard to argue with that if he keeps these numbers up," Price said.
Miller, Nowitzki and Durant wouldn't.
Durant said when he's not facing Korver—the Thunder play the Hawks once more—he's rooting for the Atlanta guard.
Nowitzki said the shooter's 50-50-90 is "unbelievable."
"And he doesn't get a lot of layups in a game. It's strictly jump-shooting. So for me that will be unbelievably impressive if he would pull that off. He definitely is one of the greatest shooters I've ever seen. He's got a quick release. And he's always on the move. So that's really one of the impressive things I've seen. 50-40-90 is already a great accomplishment. 50-50-90 is out of this world, unbelievable."
Miller was asked what it would mean if Korver did it.
He removed the "if."
"When Kyle achieves 50-50-90, it will show what's next on the horizon for shooters," Miller said. "What makes it remarkable is that he's not afraid of taking tough shots just for the sake of his percentages. I very well can see players like Klay Thompson, J.J. Redick, Stephen Curry at some point in their careers be close to 50-50-90."
Korver's own career is at 12 years, with no end date set.
"I talked to my wife about it, every year," Korver said. "I always say, as long as I matter in the fourth quarter, I want to keep on playing. I'm never going to just hang on to have another year and be a guy in the locker room. I want to do other things in life. But we really like what we're building here, and I'd like to finish my career here, and be here for the long run, and be a part of all of that. How long that goes? It all depends on how the body feels. I try to put a lot of work into it all. I feel the best I've ever felt in my whole career, right now."
It has shown in his shooting.
So what would 50-50-90 mean to him?
"To be a great shooter, I feel like you have to be a consistent shooter," Korver said. "And to finish off a season with percentages like that, I mean, that's what it really means. Everyone has good shooting nights. It's trying to eliminate the bad shooting nights. Those off games that you might have."
He's eliminated enough to get the greats' attention, even those who never gave 50-40-90 a thought while playing.
"It's like triple-doubles," Bird said. "I knew about them back in the day, but I never spent much time. It was always about winning the game for me."
The same is so for Korver, whose spacing has helped Atlanta enter the All-Star break at 43-11.
"It's pretty remarkable," Bird said. "I love when guys do things out of the ordinary. A lot of times when it happens, it's your so-called superstars that do it. Kyle's a very, very good basketball player...and if he's able to do something like that, it just goes to show what hard work does. You put your time in and you do it the right way over time, it's going to pay off. I'm happy for the kid. I know he spent a lot of time. I used to go there by myself and shoot, shoot, shoot, so it would be interesting to see how many shots he's taken in his life to get to this point."
Taken and made.
Now he's taking a run at holding a singular place and starting a club of his own.
"I think it's a hell of an accomplishment," Bird said. "That's some pretty damn good shooting, you know?"
Ethan Skolnick covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter at @EthanJSkolnick.