WHEN WILL HARDY first saw Boston Celtics center Luke Kornet‘s weird trick to contest 3-pointers, he was bemused.
“I thought it was absolutely f—ing hilarious,” Hardy, who spent last season as an assistant with the Celtics before becoming head coach of the Utah Jazz this summer, told ESPN.
“‘You’re 20 feet from the ball. Why are you jumping?’ But, then on film you watch it, and you’re like, ‘Dude, for a second the shooter can’t see the basket.'”
Seeing the 7-foot-2 Kornet leap straight up like he’s challenging a dunk when the opposing shooter is on the other side of the court certainly messes with the common perception of 3-point defense.
And, as strange as it looks, it appears to be having a legitimate effect.
Last year in the G League, the Celtics’ staff roughly tracked the “Kornet Contest” (or “Kornet Kontest”) — a term coined by Celtics analyst and former NBA player Brian Scalabrine — finding about 30 instances where it happened. Opponents shot around 25%.
This season, ESPN Stats & Information tracked Kornet performing the move on 36 shots — including 34 3-pointers — with opponents making 12 shots for a 33.3% success rate. According to Second Spectrum player tracking data, Kornet was the closest defender on 22 of those 35 shots. (Per Second Spectrum, the NBA average on wide-open 3s is 38.0%.)
Kornet’s average distance from the shooter on those attempts? Just under 12 feet.
How did he decide this was something he was going to do? In Kornet’s case, it was about solving his own math problem.
How does a 7-foot-2, 250-pound, slow-footed center get from the rim to the 3-point line to contest a shot?
Easy: He doesn’t.
KORNET SPENT FOUR years with the Vanderbilt Commodores before going undrafted in 2017, playing for the New York Knicks, the Chicago Bulls, the Celtics for an 18-game stint in 2020-21, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Milwaukee Bucks with a few dozen G League games mixed in.
Throughout his stops, he arrived at a conclusion: Opponents can’t hit what they can’t see.
“It was at a time in life where it’s like, ‘All right. You might as well just find every little way you can to [impact the game],'” Kornet told ESPN. “If it makes a difference, it makes a difference.”
Kornet initially utilized the maneuver only when it involved a center taking a pick-and-pop 3 who could attack his closeout off the dribble and force him out of the play.
The Kornet Contest became a regular piece of his defensive repertoire in his time with the G League’s Maine Celtics during the 2021-22 season.
“I was really just trying to stay in the paint last year in Maine, in terms of protecting the rim always and over-helping always,” Kornet said, “because that’s also sort of what we do up here [in Boston].
“It happened in games where a couple people have said, ‘Yeah, I couldn’t see any [of the rim].'”
While Hardy initially scoffed, his opinion changed once he realized how much — if he timed it properly — Kornet could block the rim from a shooter’s line of sight.
“Even though no one’s near you, it distorts your vision for a second,” said Hardy, who like most Celtics staffers has taken to calling Kornet’s move “The Eclipse.”
“Luke just kept doing it, and he really believed in it. He sold me. …
“The first time that I actually got to see one from [the Celtics] bench — where someone shot one from the corner in front of our bench — I was like, ‘Oh, s—, you really can’t see the basket when he jumps like that.’ And it just became his thing.”
NO ONE — INCLUDING Kornet — believes the move is a foolproof way to thwart opposing shooters. Hardy texted Kornet when Wizards forward Rui Hachimura successfully shot-faked him into jumping early in a Celtics win on Oct. 30.
“I think to an inexperienced player, that might be distracting,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said earlier this month when the Miami Heat faced Boston. “But our guys have seen a lot of different schemes, coverages, whatever.
“If they’re open, I just want them to let it go, and not focus on that.”
Kornet studies when and where to jump, but if he misses his mark by a few feet or a few milliseconds, the shooter has a wide-open look — and a foolish-looking Kornet in his peripheral vision.
“I think it’s a smart play,” Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzulla told ESPN. “He’s doing a better job knowing when to do it so that it doesn’t take him out of defensive position. And it can definitely be a distraction if they’re used to seeing the rim every time they shoot.”
When asked if it made sense to teach other players this technique, Hardy mentioned the same possible issues with positioning. Still, he said it’s something worth discussing with players in Kornet’s situation.
“You’re doing nothing standing here,” Hardy said. “Even if this helps 1 percent, that’s better than nothing.”
Kornet added, “If it takes it down [the chances of making a shot] at all, then you should do it every single time.
“It is very strange and uncomfortable, but it’s more embarrassing to not do something to help your team win.
“Whatever it takes to do that, you can’t really question it if the results are there.”
ESPN Stats & Information’s Matt Williams contributed to this story.
Why Luke Kornet’s Contest is effective for the Celtics