76ers: Korkmaz shooting way to an important role
Anybody who predicted Furkan Korkmaz, who was seemingly unwanted heading into the summer, would be the 76ers’ top bench scorer midway through the 2019-20 deserves a prize.
Returning reserves Mike Scott or James Ennis would’ve made a lot more sense than Korkmaz for a number of reasons.
After the Sixers declined Korkmaz’s third-year option of $2 million in October 2018, he appeared destined to return home to play in Turkey, only to sign a two-year deal in July with only the first season guaranteed at the league minimum ($1.6 million).
Given Brett Brown’s emphasis on defense, the offensive-oriented Korkmaz figured to have a difficult time cracking the coach’s regular rotation. However, the Sixers’ lack of perimeter shooters off the bench convinced Brown to give the 22-year-old Korkmaz a chance in an effort to “grow a bomber,” as Brown put it.
And Korkmaz’s importance continues to grow as the season has progressed, especially with star center Joel Embiid sidelined indefinitely due to ligament damage in his left ring finger.
Korkmaz scored a total of 56 points — the most in three consecutive games during his pro career — during the 28-16 Sixers’ last three victories. Perhaps more impressive is that he hit 12 of 22 3-pointers (54.5%) during that span.
Korkmaz scored nine of his 15 points in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s 117-106 home victory over the Nets, added 14 of his career-high 24 in the third period of Friday night’s 100-89 win over the visiting Bulls — a game in which he knocked down 6 of 9 3-pointers — and had 17 points in Saturday evening’s 90-87 road victory over the Knicks.
“Finally in my third year I can say I found my role on the team,” Korkmaz said.
Korkmaz has registered all three of his 20-point games this season, averaging 8.7 points on 39.1% shooting from 3-point range while playing in 43 of a possible 44 games.
“When he comes in and he can find the rim and make some 3s, it jump-starts stuff,” Brown said.
Korkmaz believes his familiarity with his teammates and coaches in his third year with them is a factor in his improvement.
“I’m having better relationships every day with my teammates, my coaching staff and the organization,” Korkmaz said. “I think that gives me more confidence on the court.”
He has also developed a good rapport with all-star point guard Ben Simmons, who tends to find him at the 3-point line when the two are on the floor together.
“Every time I play with Ben, I know he’s going to look for assists,” Korkmaz said. “When I get in the game, I know he’s going to look for me and I’m just out there trying to score. I’m just trying to take advantage of him.”
While the Sixers will undoubtedly look to upgrade their bench by the Feb. 6 trade deadline, Korkmaz has made a strong case for staying in Brown’s rotation.
On the flip side, Korkmaz isn’t as effective on the defensive end, though he drew an offensive foul on Chicago leading scorer Zach LaVine in the fourth quarter Friday.
When he’s in the game, the Sixers typically don’t switch screens in an effort to keep him on his man rather than creating a mismatch, such as when his task was to remain in front of speedy Thunder point guard Dennis Schroder on Jan. 13.
“I think what goes a little underrated is his defense has improved, at times, dramatically,” Brown said.
Korkmaz played in Turkey during his first year after the Sixers drafted him No. 26 in 2016, then spent much of his rookie NBA season with Delaware in the G League. Last year, Korkmaz averaged 5.8 points and shot 32.6% on 3s in 48 games before tearing his meniscus in February.
Korkmaz has been especially effective at home, where he’s shooting 44.8% from behind the arc. On the road, he’s 33.3%, though Saturday’s showing at Madison Square Garden was certainly encouraging.
The Sixers visit the Nets on Monday afternoon.
“I think that he’s having a heck of a season,” Brown said. “He’s come from a very unlikely path back into this team to play quite a role for us.”
So much so that it’s hard to imagine the Sixers not picking up his option — for $1.8 million next season — this time.
Tom Moore: firstname.lastname@example.org; @TomMoorePhilly