Furkan Korkmaz Has Become Sixers’ Ace in the Hole

Furkan Korkmaz’s first two NBA seasons were relatively quiet as he played a grand total of 62 games, starting in only seven of them.

Yet, he showed steady, albeit modest progression over that time and even gave flashes of being a useful piece for the Philadelphia 76ers moving forward.

That’s because he has a “special set of skills” that the team will sorely need if they are to make good on their potential as contenders.

Of course, those types of expectations all began a few years ago. The Summer of 2016 marked the end of the “Trust The Process” era after years of following Sam Hinkie’s unique approach of roster construction. The Sixers found franchise cornerstones Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, though injuries kept them off the court more than any team would like.

Nonetheless, everyone knew that those two would be good for a long time and the next phase became surrounding them with the right supporting pieces.

That’s where things have really gotten tricky.

Philadelphia selected Korkmaz with the 26th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Yet, most of the talk (for good reason) centered around the team’s choice to trade from the third spot up to the first and grab Simmons. Korkmaz was an interesting choice despite the lack of fanfare. Here was a 6’7” shooter who was brought in with the intentions of one day replacing the team’s go-to option on the perimeter, J.J. Redick—another piece brought in prior to the 2016-17 season.

Redick left as a free agent this past offseason and took his 40.7 three-point field goal percentage with him. His ability to play a two-man game (using pin downs, curls, dribble handoffs, etc.) with Embiid helped space the floor and force defenses to pick their poison between protecting the paint and defending the perimeter.

The Sixers opted not to chase another sharpshooter to replace Redick but re-signed Korkmaz instead, giving him an opportunity to ascend into a bigger role.

The 22-year old Turkish swingman has played in 46 games this season and started 11 of them. He’s on pace to shatter his career-high in both categories, as well as most of his previous statistics.

However, his shooting profile is different than what the team lost with Redick.

The latter was an impeccable shooter off the move: He just needed his shoulders squared at the hoop, no matter how the rest of his body was positioned, and he could drill shot after shot. Korkmaz is a much better shooter when set and in position. According to NBA.com’s tracking statistics, half of his shots come off of catch-and-shoot opportunities. On those looks, he has a 65.2 effective field goal percentage and shoots 43.8 percent on three-pointers.

Nov 13, 2019; Orlando, FL, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Furkan Korkmaz (30) reacts as he makes a three point basket against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Thus, Instead of being involved in actions with Embiid or Simmons, Korkmaz is much better when he gets the ball as a result of the opposing team over-helping or focusing too much on Philadelphia’s two best players. That’s why he attempts nearly 20 percent of his shots with seven seconds or less on the shot clock.

His shot profile on NBA.com shows that late in the shot clock (between seven and four seconds) he’s shooting a scorching 48 percent. During ‘very late’ situations (between four and zero seconds), he’s shooting 41.2 percent.

Scoring has never been a problem for Korkmaz, even if his early NBA profile didn’t give many hints.

He was the top scorer at the 2013 FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship and made the all-tournament team for the 2015 FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship as well as the 2015 FIBA Under-19 World Cup as a member of the Turkey junior national team. He also shot above 40 percent from beyond the arc in two seasons of EuroLeague play as a teen.

Of course, Korkmaz has yet to display that same consistency for a full NBA season. However, he can change the tide of a game quickly when he gets going. He showed what that looks like in his 2018 MGM Resorts Las Vegas Summer League debut.

Since January 15th, Korkmaz has taken his game to the proverbial next level, playing some of the best and most consistent basketball since coming across the Atlantic. He’s gone 22 of 47 from deep and is averaging 15.3 points per game over that six-game stretch while playing at least 20 minutes a night.

During Saturday’s ABC Primetime game versus the Los Angeles Lakers, Korkmaz was part of the reason the Sixers were so effective offensively. He contributed nine points and shot 3-of-9 on three-pointers as Philadelphia held on to beat one of the NBA’s best teams.

Philly has had a bit of a disappointing first half of the season: They currently sit in only sixth place in the Eastern Conference despite having been a preseason title favorite who could contend for the top seed and be a true challenger to the Milwaukee Bucks.

But they have yet to reach that status. Another new roster construction has slowed the Sixers’ pace, and early injuries to Embiid certainly haven’t helped. However, Philadelphia still is only two-and-a-half games behind the Miami Heat for the second seed.

Strong play in the lead up to or following the All-Star break could easily flip the entire perspective of how the 76ers are playing. If a winning streak is going to happen, however, they will need the Korkmaz of the past few games to continue showing up nightly.

Today’s game is more perimeter-oriented than it has ever been. All 30 teams are searching far and wide for players who can space the floor, seeing over and burning defenses when left open. If he can put it on the deck and attack poor closeouts, all the better.

Oct 28, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Furkan Korkmaz (30) shoots against the Atlanta Hawks in the second quarter at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

So much is made about Embiid and Simmons’ lack of floor spacing ability, though that’s typically directed at the latter due to his well-publicized aversion to shooting from distance. The question often becomes, “can a modern team win when its two best players need to be near the hoop?”

Though that narrative is a tad overblown, there’s a strong reason it still exists. On a team that boasts a fair number of rotation players who ‘can shoot’ the three—think: Embiid, Josh Richardson, Al Horford, Tobias Harris, etc.—Philly doesn’t have many specialist options who are truly trustworthy on a high volume of shots.

Alarm bells especially began sounding after Redick, long one of the game’s most deadly such snipers, departed.

So Philly has bet an awful lot on Korkmaz being the answer to its roster’s long-running weak link, as any disruption in spacing neutralizes a fair share of its stars’ effectiveness. But a guy who keeps defenses honest while hitting big shots from outside suddenly changes the geometry and the calculus for what this team can accomplish in the short and long-term. It means Simmons and Embiid more often have space to operate one-on-one or in tandem against matchups who can rarely stop them from scoring.

That Korkmaz can do so without needing plays run for him (as Redick conversely did), means the ball winds up in both Simmons and Embiid’s hands that much more, as well as keeping secondary options like Richardson, Horford and Harris engaged.

The Sixers not only must hope that they have found the long-term answer in their third-year guard, but they’re also set to find out in the playoffs if Korkmaz is ready for his closeup or not.

Fortunately, things are looking better and better so far.