Robert Williams III was jumping on his magic carpet and climbing up to the three-point line, perhaps managing to get a finger on a shot that NASA’s top-secret committee deemed untouchable. Al Horford was getting up under the bowler in a short contest, making the shot a bit uncomfortable but still being in a position to defend if the cocking pump was fake.
Cornette knows he can’t do these things to the same level as the best Boston players. Kornet is relatively smart at 7-foot-2, but he can only move really fast after spraining his pre-season ankle. His role in Celtics defense often had him helping him shoot in the corner to keep an eye on the paint. But when the ball is kicked in there, it’s time to get into play and fly through the air.
Almost everyone else in the game flies towards that shooter to varying degrees. But Cornette does it differently. When the shot goes up, he jumps straight into the sky with all his might, however far away, to block the sun.
Cornet calls it “the Eclipse.”
“It can look really dumb, but it seems very effective,” Cornette said. athlete. “Rob is unique because he gets his hands on quite a few of those. I’ve been able to block a couple in my day. But if you try to help a lot and pass the pass in there, all you do is run and jump pretty little. And you usually do it against a guy Not an elite shooter. You can lower that percentage.”
Maybe if Cornett tries, he might be able to get to the ball and make the shot more difficult. But two seasons ago, when Cornett played for Chicago before being traded to Boston, he felt he needed to change something. He’s seen players “do weird kinds of things” all over the league, including Jaylen Brown going up straight with two hands from a relatively distance away as a manifestation of Brad Stevens’ second jump rule.
Stevens wanted his defenders to wait for the shooter to be in the air before leaving their feet, so Brown would wait until the last minute and then jump as high as possible with both hands in the air. Instead of trying to get to the shooter, Brown wanted to distract them off the edge and make them feel like they had to shoot a little higher.
Boston routinely advanced to the top of the league in a 3-point defense, which is unusual for the common assumption that a deep opponent’s shot was random on aggregate.
But the Celtics found something, as they were both disciplined and meticulous in the way they closed in on the shooters. They would go deeper than normal versus soft closing personnel, deciding whether to run the shooter away from the line by flying close to them or stopping to make sure they didn’t put the ball on the ground.
“It took levels, OK, I know this does one small thing, oh, that could be a very effective thing,” Cornette said. “I definitely grew into it and realized its effectiveness even more. Jaylen did it, but I took it to another level how to do it. I’m 7ft 2in 2 long arms so it especially works for me.”
It is an evolution of the strategy that Shane Battier has popularized in trying to defend Kobe Bryant over the years. Battier was a fantastic defender whose immeasurable impact on the game helped usher in the analytics movement, and he knew he could never stop Bryant’s shot. But who can really?
So instead of competing for the ball, he was competing for the eyes.
“I would never call myself a Cuban stopper. I was a human yellow light at my best,” Pattier told ESPN last year. “Kobe was such a great opponent that he didn’t think anything could affect him, right? I tried to use that against him. I was trying to block the view, but for Kobe the only way he could prove that the hand in the face wouldn’t work was to take More jumpers, which was statistically his weakest shot on the floor.”
Kornet calls out the same challenge for every shooter who dares to shoot 3 with Kornet just 15 feet away. It’s not quite the same thing as the throttle reach of Pattier’s fingertips, just inches from the eyeball. But Cornette wants to make sure the shooter sees his hands instead of the edge.
At 7 feet 2 inches tall, Cornet can make that ledge disappear behind his reach for the sky. Objecting to a shot is not about blocking it, but getting the shooter out of his or her comfort zone. The Kornet competition throws men up enough to work.
“As a senior, I don’t like a lot of our guys who are super fast and can close in and stay up front, and make really great plays,” Cornette said. “So it’s like, ‘I’m really tall, so how can I be efficient in that?’ I figured it out because the game forces you to. So it works.”
Results: 2-for-8 shot in three matches so far, with one spin by Evan Mobley and 1 by Rui Hachimura.
“I ended up landing where, if someone doesn’t shoot it, you’re right in front of them,” Cornette said. “So you realize all the times you fly and jump on guys, if I don’t really get there, what’s the point? So what can I do if it’s not a zero-sum game?”
It has its ups and downs, literally and figuratively. In the first clip against Hashimura, Cornet deterred the initial shot and then was still in a position to contain Hashimura’s campaign. The Great Wizard missed 18 feet instead. Then in the last play above, he stays in position to contain Hashimura’s defense against his shot but then makes a foul on the arm off the ball as he gives up a hard hit and -1.
Eclipse isn’t a perfect solution, but it does allow Kornet to be fairly versatile while still sticking to the paint.
He’s Luke’s man, he’s different. Defensive Player of the Year, Marcus Smart, a true expert on defensive hurt, said, “You don’t see a lot of people doing that.” They open up, then see 7 feet of jumping straight out of nowhere. She’s like, “What’s going on?” So it’s working, and as long as it’s working, we’re fine with it.”
Having teammates is one thing, but it’s really at the discretion of his coach. Stevens seems to like it. He was a big fan of Kornet. Ime Udoka Kornet didn’t use much in the past year, but Mazzulla has to count on it now.
Blake Griffin and Noah Vonleh were getting backup center minutes in the first week of the season, but Kornet was stepping into that role now that he’s healthy. While he continues to object to the shots from inside the paint, his coach continues to endorse it.
“I think that’s something he’s good at and he’s seen a lot of movies,” Mazola said. “I think it’s a good way to compete without going into a close. It’s a solid tactic, so it works.”
Luke Kornet loves math just like Joe Mazzulla. He finished his homework, did the numbers and entered them through the algorithm. He’ll take that look over the edge and deter the drives at all costs, then do what he can to deal with the consequences when that driver kicks it to his leg for 3.
“I’m going to be competing from 15 feet away and that’s become a thing, but that was just realizing, like, what’s the value of that shot that I’m giving and with that contest, what’s it coming down for?” Cornette said. “If I could reduce the layoffs, no matter what, it would always be a better option than the 3 quit. It’s tough because the sample size isn’t the largest, but it was somewhat significant and had an impact.”
Kornet knows what kinds of plays to call and which shooters can leave alone. He wants to stop the car in the paint and discourage handling players from driving while the game continues, making them think that the kick-off pass is their best option. So when he guards someone like Isaac Okoro, who hasn’t reached number 3 all season, he’s ready to sit in the paint on Donovan Mitchell’s car and send the eclipse down Okoro Road.
“Just being in the way is my defensive trick,” Cornette said. “I just enjoy the intellectual aspect of working together to figure out how we can make this more difficult? This is always a fun game. Compete and make guys miss, that’s cool.”
Kornet’s position is that he wants to spoil it as much as possible in paint. He constantly assesses where he can dive farther into the paint and stops an action before the offense adapts to make those early passes. He will go back and forth, playing a game of cat and mouse to keep them nervous.
Boston plus 20 with Cornette on the floor in 45 minutes played in the last two games. Much like eclipses, the data is a small sample size in an already noisy state like odd plus minus. But as long as the numbers say it’s working, it will continue to eclipse.
“I will literally jump out of the depths of men and I will live with that,” Cornette said. “Until people prove otherwise or show some guys that they can shoot really well, then OK, I’ll change after that. But I feel, usually in the NBA, that cutting that core guy he’s trying to create is very important. So you do. That’s as much as you can.”
Kornet might have something here, and it looks like he’ll have enough minutes to test it out. He’s a 7-foot 2-foot blocker, and his offensive game is mostly 3-second open and passing. There is a bit of his game that fits the mold.
Cornett was hanging his NBA career by a thread, but he kept hanging around as he found unique places to level the playing field against the faster, stronger athletes. As Smart said, it’s Luke, man. it is different.
(Photo: Nick Grace/Getty Images)