This is a weekly series where we’ll look back at one player’s performance to see who stood out and why. Whether it’s the best player on the team, someone at the bottom of the bench who stepped up, or anyone in between.
Last week’s results: 95-101 L @ Indiana, 117-106 W vs. Brooklyn, 100-89 W vs. Chicago, 90-87 W @ New York.
In the eight weeks I’ve been doing this series, no role player has done more to earn Sixer of the Week than Furkan Korkmaz just did. The Philadelphia 76ers had plenty of completely underwhelming stretches of play last week, and Korkmaz provided some essential bursts of offense to help them grab a couple more wins.
Korkmaz didn’t get off to the best start. He had a rough performance against the Indiana Pacers on Monday, with 1-of-5 shooting and poor defense against the Pacers’ quicker guards and big wings. Even though Korkmaz has improved on defense somewhat this season, moving his feet a little better while at least maintaining good effort most of the time, he can be a liability against more explosive opponents.
After that, Korkmaz had his best stretch since entering the NBA and scored at least 15 points in three straight games for the first time.
Korkmaz started heating up on Wednesday against Brooklyn. He only shot 5-of-13 overall, but made 3 of his 6 three-pointers and finished with 15 points. His 9-point surge in the fourth quarter was crucial, as the Sixers won the final period 31-16 to turn around what was a close game. It was also Korkmaz’s first double-digit scoring game since his 16 points on Christmas Day against Milwaukee.
His shooting off movement has real value for a Sixers team that doesn’t have much of it, and he can work well as a screener with Ben Simmons to throw off defenses. This simple play in the fourth quarter worked perfectly to generate a wide-open look. As Korkmaz comes over from the weak-side and fakes a screen, Wilson Chandler seems to expect Simmons to drive off the screen and moves to go under. Korkmaz’s defender, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, hesitates as Simmons approaches, and by failing to execute a switch with Chandler, Korkmaz slides into tons of space for a triple:
Using actions like this and dribble hand-offs when Simmons’ defender is sagging off worked well with JJ Redick, and they can continue to be effective for others. If Simmons’ screen connects or the defense’s switch is late, a shooter can be sprung open.
On Friday, Korkmaz went off. The Sixers were flat all around, with cold offense and low effort and communicative breakdowns on defense. They needed a jolt of energy, and Korkmaz provided that.
He scored a career-high 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting and went 6-of-9 from three. The Sixers turned around the game by winning the third quarter 35-24, as Korkmaz poured in 14 points in the period with perfect 4-of-4 shooting from deep.
He buried spot-up looks, threes on the move, and was never afraid to fire without hesitation, whether defenders were closing out on him or not. He also got aggressive attacking inside late in the game, driving down the lane for a two-handed dunk and dropping in a soft floater from the elbow:
A performance like this demonstrates everything the Sixers need from Korkmaz offensively. A quick trigger, threes on the move, good off-ball movement to find space, and a touch of drives and floaters when need be. The Sixers ran him off screens and looked to him to lead their scoring in the third quarter. It’s safe to say he delivered.
“For us to see [Korkmaz] come in and do JJ [Redick] like stuff, and be that type of a bomber, that was different to what we have as it relates to our current skillset,” Brett Brown said after the game. “We put him in a bunch of stuff, and we ran probably five plays in a row going to him. I had flashbacks of JJ, like we jumped into JJ’s package for [Furkan]. He changed the game. He gave us a spark. I don’t remember JJ dunking like that. The longshot and his bam, bam, bam, to get quick points and buckets really fuelled us and our defense. He was our bell ringer tonight.”
Korkmaz picked up right where he left off in the Sixers' next game on Saturday night against the New York Knicks. With 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting (3-of-7 from beyond the arc, including a 4-point play where he relocated around the perimeter and instantly buried a three on the run), he provided steady offense on a night when the Sixers didn’t have much going. He also showed off his touch when attacking closeouts and coming off screens, too, as he dropped in a floater and a soft finger-roll over Mitchell Robinson:
The Sixers were always going to need to tap into as much shooting as their weird, massive roster could offer this season. It was going to require most players on the team to adjust and shoot with a little more volume than they might like. Clearly the Sixers could still use more, but Korkmaz is doing his bit to step up.
For the season, he’s up to 39.2 percent from three on 4.4 attempts per game (not far behind Josh Richardson’s team-high 5 attempts, despite playing almost 12 fewer minutes a night). Korkmaz’s 7.7 three-point attempts per 36 minutes easily leads all Sixers rotation players. And thanks to such high volume, efficiency and more minutes than before (a career-high 20.5 per game), he's second on the team in total made triples at 74, just 1 make behind Tobias Harris. On top of all that, Korkmaz is shooting 44 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, and ranks in the 70th percentile on spot-up plays and the 96th percentile off screens.
After shooting just 32.3 percent from three and struggling to find a role over the first two years of his NBA career, Korkmaz is putting together quite the turnaround season. Even though his defense is still an issue and will limit how many minutes he can play in the playoffs, he's proving how his shooting ability can help. The Sixers may have lost another game or two last week without him.