The Weekly Reed: Modern problems require modern solutions 


I don’t follow the NBA as much as I used to, but I caught myself watching just a couple of weeks ago. It was a contest between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers and early in the first quarter, I saw one of the strangest things ever. 76ers Center Joel Embiid had the ball at the top of the key, getting ready to shoot and a Celtics player about 10 feet away from him jumped. Embiid held onto the ball, so the Celtics player jumped once again while now only about eight feet away from him. The 76ers star drained the shot and celebrated in front of the smiling Celtics player’s face. For someone who hasn’t watched the NBA all season, this was a great moment to remind me how fun the game can be.   

As the game continued, I couldn’t stop laughing about the player who just kept jumping in the paint anytime someone shot a three. It got me thinking– there has to be evidence that what he just did worked or else he’d be out of the league, right?  

The “Kornet Kontest” is the name of the move I apparently witnessed. This player had been doing it beforehand, but I just had no knowledge of what it was, and it caught me off guard. It originated with Celtics bench player Luke Kornet, whom the maneuver is named after. In theory, the move blocks the shooter’s vision of the basketball rim in hopes that it messes up their shot enough for them to miss. The move was tested out in the G-League and practices, but this season was the first time Kornet attempted it for real. 

In the first 16 recorded uses of the “Kornet Kontest” this season, only four of those shots were made. That means players shot around 25% from three whenever Luke Kornet jumped to block the rim from their vision. League averages for three-point percentage is about 36%, meaning that Kornet’s strategy made his opponents shoot worse than league average, of course on a very small sample size. This is about the extent of data that is available for the move so far, but Kornet isn’t the only one doing it. Washington Wizards center and former all-star Kristaps Porzingis employed this move in the paint recently. Porzingis and his analytics coach both agree that despite the move’s statistically unproven status, it remains effective.  

Recently, the three-point shot took over the game of basketball. Teams take roughly as many three-pointers as they do two-pointers, and they continue to get better at making them each year. Just this past week, the Los Angeles Clippers and Sacramento Kings played a double overtime game that became the second-highest scoring game in NBA history while also tying the NBA record with 44 combined three-pointers. If you look up the most three-pointers attempted in a game by a single team, the numbers increase every decade. When you look up the most three-pointers made in a game by a single team, the top 30 examples and beyond are from 2018 to this season. Defending three-pointers continues to get harder, with players gaining larger ranges along with wide rule changes, so an effective way to stop them is needed.  

One argument against the move is that players lose the ability to rebound the ball. That has been a definitive issue that is seen in Kornet’s game due to the maneuver. In a few instances, Kornet has given up an easy rebound and put-back to opponents, but the benefits of the move might be worth it. Kornet stays away from the landing area of the shooter, which prevents giving up free throw opportunities and fouls. Kornet also has the luxury of teammates who are pretty good at grabbing defensive rebounds and make up for his loss in positioning. If a player pump-fakes Kornet, he can get down and land in a defensive position. When players took advantage of an air-born Kornet earlier this season, he adapted and started perfecting the move.  

The Celtics themselves don’t seem too worried about the move; Kornet continues to do it and the team has kept winning. Boston is first in the Eastern Conference and holds the best record in the NBA at the time I’m writing this. They are fourth in the league in defensive rating (111.0) and still lead in defensive rebound percentage (75.2%). Kornet lost playing time this season with the return of Rob Williams III, but his move has the potential to make a significant change to the league. 

Everyone on the court now can essentially shoot from anywhere. Finding new ways to defend has been a topic of interest for many NBA scouts and front offices, with Kornet offering a possible solution. We must wait until the end of the season to really dive into the statistics, but it wouldn’t be surprising to find more players doing this within the next few seasons.  

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