As a real long-term core has begun to emerge in Philly, it’s become apparent that the Sixers have one unusual, cozy advantage going forward: wing depth.
Robert Covington has cemented himself as a permanent starter with outrageous precision and focus on defense to complement his streaky shooting stroke. Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot transitioned from a league where former Sixer Charles Jenkins could wrangle a playoff MVP to an NBA rotation in less than a year, showcasing the length, budding shooting stroke and aggression that could make him a rotation fixture with further strength and conditioning. Justin Anderson is definitely in the NBA, and you can’t say he isn’t.
Then there’s Furkan Korkmaz. The Sixers selected Korkmaz 26th overall last June, and directed him to stay overseas for the time being. He was nowhere near ready physically. He had a slight frame and narrow dimensions (albeit at only 18 on draft day), needing serious strength training for him to A) avoid pigeonholing himself as just a shooter, and B) come to the States and not be tossed around like a chew toy.
Almost a year later, the results are looking up. After being loaned to Banvit in December to find more playing time, Korkmaz has shined in a featured role, shooting the ball effectively at the highest volumes of his career and continuing to show flashes as a secondary playmaker.
Any pitch for Korkmaz begins and ends with his shooting. It’s smooth, versatile and high-level, point blank. He can shoot coming off pick-and-rolls, running off screens, quick trigger catch-and-shoots under pressure, anything really.
This is pretty clearly his most translatable skill, and it’s hard to properly underscore just how much of an asset it could be. This isn’t a basic shooter who just punishes defenses when they double-team Joel Embiid, or routinely steps in for simple rhythm buckets (sorry, Hollis). He’s a fluid enough athlete and dribbler to potentially set up and create his own offense at the next level, and is doing so already in flashes against grown men.
Which brings us to an important part of that equation: his passing, which is already outrageously impressive for a 19-year-old in the pros, and could get even better with maturation.
The standstill passing vision and delivery are already really good. The key for him in this department is unlocking more of his dishing on the move, so defenses will have to account for his shooting and playmaking off-the-bounce in the NBA.
You’re definitely starting to see more of this in the half-court this season now that he’s been unlocked. The technical aspects of it have some immaturities that still need to be ironed out, like the slight hunch and stiffness you see in the second clip, but the reads he makes can be super impressive.
What you want to see going forward are obviously continued reps as a ball-handler, but also more interest in getting his own shot around the basket. He’s never going to be strong or bouncy enough to finish strong at the rim, but continuing to put together his floater game would go a long way. It could come naturally as he hopefully adds muscle and skill over the next year or two, and I’ve seen him bust it out a couple times, but it’s always seemed more timid than creative or polished like you’d see from an in-between killer like C.J. McCollum or even Will Barton.
Overall though, he’s far more mature than you’d expect from a 19 year-old playing mid-high level professional basketball. Little kinks like this are just what he needs to tune up his all-around offensive game.
If Korkmaz ever reaches even 75 percent of his offensive potential, his defense won’t be a life-or-death proposition, but it could certainly hold him back. His body is definitely a real problem, but on the other hand, he’s also essentially a pure two guard, so it’s not like he’s going to be getting punished by twos at 6-foot-7 and then some. And he has plus length too, which obviously won’t be the difference between him being a positive defender and a minus, but could at least help him blend in.
Ultimately, I wouldn’t expect him to ever defend at a high level. He’s offensive-minded first and foremost, and his level of engagement is inconsistent at best. If he’s a truly respected volume shooter, two-level scorer and playmaker, he’ll never have to in order to be valuable anyway. It just won’t matter. Think of his upside in the Evan Fournier mold.
Obviously in a dream world you want all of your wings to defend, but if Korkmaz hits, his surplus value on offense as the 26th overall pick will ultimately outweigh the rest. If he utilizes the athletic tools he has to compete on that end - remember, he won a freaking dunk contest! - it’s all gravy.
So, what now?
Coming full circle, the Sixers’ wing depth definitely plays a role in the conversation about when to bring Korkmaz over. Assuming they’re committed to the Justin Anderson experiment and bringing Nik Stauskas back, as Brett Brown alluded to, it’s hard to imagine there being room for him to join the team in any type of constructive capacity next season. If he weren’t locked into a rookie scale contract, a two-way contract would be perfect for him, but it’s unfortunately not the case.
His body was the most significant roadblock to his NBA readiness a year ago, and having still not improved it at all, you’d like to get him into an NBA strength and conditioning program. But that doesn’t really make sense for the team right now. This is likely to be a launchpad summer for them, and using a valued roster spot on their fifth (!) 23-and-under wing when they likely want to see significant improvement next season seems unrealistic from a distance.
Maybe the team needs another year to evaluate their younger wings and sort out Covington’s contract situation. Maybe Korkmaz can continue developing his body and game with the necessary reps in Turkey, and eventually turn himself into a moveable asset like Bogdan Bogdanovic, should the team determine his services aren’t needed.
To me, another year overseas ultimately makes the most sense. Beyond that, I won’t prognosticate how the roster situation shakes out. But he’s certainly talented enough to be everything we wanted Stauskas to be and maybe more.