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Sixer of the Week: Furkan Korkmaz energizes the Sixers

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Episode 10, covering the Sixers’ 2-2 stretch from February 3 to 9.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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: 106-137 L @ Miami, 101-112 L @ Milwaukee, 119-107 W vs. Memphis, 118-111 W vs. Chicago.

There hasn't been much going well for the Philadelphia 76ers lately. Their recent 0-4 road trip was ugly, and there's hardly much to praise from last week. As a result, this episode of Sixer of the Week is going to be focused on performances from the last two games, when the Sixers returned to Wells Fargo Centre and Furkan Korkmaz was instrumental in leading them to two wins.

After two quiet games to start the week (6 points on 2-of-8 shooting against Miami, followed by 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting against Milwaukee), Korkmaz exploded on Friday night against the Memphis Grizzlies for the best game of his career. The Sixers badly needed a lift, and Korkmaz provided a massive jolt of energy off the bench. He scored a career-high 34 points and added 6 rebounds and 4 assists, with 13-of-17 shooting from the floor (7-of-9 from three).

Korkmaz has never been more confident. Perhaps no shot illustrated this more than just before the end of the third quarter, when he brought the ball down court as Philly were looking for a two-for-one opportunity. Korkmaz, who had been hot all game, only had his eyes set on the rim and pulled up from 26 feet with zero hesitation:

Deep threes like this, especially off the dribble, haven’t been very common for the Sixers this season.

The Sixers have been able to run more actions through Korkmaz this year, especially when he’s firing on all cylinders. They've lacked much easy offense from the perimeter — the kind of two-man game and dribble hand-off play that JJ Redick made possible. And while Korkmaz isn't the fastest player getting to his spots or on Redick's level when it comes to flying off screens and shooting on the move, he's still helping the Sixers in this regard.

Simple plays like the following have been pretty effective this season. This action called “12” used to be ran for Redick. With Ben Simmons handling the ball, Korkmaz comes up the lane to either fully set a screen or slip to the three-point line, which often throws defenders off to create open looks. Alternatively, if the screen connects or a defense puts too much pressure on Korkmaz, Simmons can find driving lanes. Here, as Korkmaz comes up and slips to the top of the arc, Brandon Clarke goes under to stay in position against Simmons’ drive. Korkmaz’s defender, Ja Morant, immediately worries about Simmons attacking as well, which gives Korkmaz all the space he needs to get set for a triple:

If defenders are too concerned with the threat of Simmons driving or they don’t execute a switch/recover on time, it’s easy enough to find open looks for Korkmaz.

Korkmaz found some success against the Grizzlies inside the arc, too. He hardly runs any pick-and-roll, seeing as the Sixers don’t use it much in general and he isn’t nearly dynamic or fast enough as a ball handler or passer. That said, he does have touch on floaters and a little craftiness with pump fakes and selective drives. Even though he’s only attempting 12.3 percent of his shots within three feet of the basket this season, he’s at least making a highly efficient 69.2 percent of them when he gets there.

Take the two possessions in the clip below. In the first play, Korkmaz comes off the screen and pump fakes to prompt Jonas Valanciunas to drop his arm and step back, which frees up a little more room to hit the short jumper. In the second play, Korkmaz drives down the lane, shows the ball to send De’Anthony Melton out of the way, and uses a small euro step to move in for the finish:

When talking about his career performance after the game, Korkmaz's simple remark, "I just made it rain," was spot on.

Korkmaz picked up right where he left off against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday. He poured in 31 points (including 9 in the fourth quarter) on 12-of-17 shooting and went 6-of-11 from three, adding 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals as he made a few heads-up defensive plays. This made Korkmaz the only Sixer to record at least 30 points in consecutive games all season.

From relocating around the arc to find space, to pump faking his way into better looks, to grabbing a steal to set up a three from 28 feet in the third quarter, Korkmaz was finding his shots. It helps to keep the offense humming when he fires without hesitation or fakes his way into a better look, rather than passing and giving defenses a chance to recover.

Besides plenty of spot-ups and shots created out of nifty pump fakes like those above, Korkmaz was given opportunities to work with more plays designed for him as well, including dribble hand-offs.

On this play with Joel Embiid, the Bulls — worried about a possible pull-up — hedge as Korkmaz comes off the screen and hand-off. With Cristiano Felicio pressuring high up the lane, Embiid has space to roll inside. Korkmaz exploits the pressure from the defense by hitting Embiid with a bounce pass to set him up to draw a foul:

Yet again, the Sixers’ “12” play worked like a charm in the final five minutes as the Bulls cut down the lead. Korkmaz’s defender, Tomas Satoransky, flew over onto Simmons, who waited for a moment before setting up Korkmaz for an open three:

Then, for his final bucket of the night, Korkmaz took a hand-off from Tobias Harris to slice down the lane for a dunk which his teammates absolutely loved:

In only 21.3 minutes a night this season, Korkmaz leads all Sixers players in three-point attempts per game (5), total makes (105), and percentage (39.8). This volume and production in limited minutes is a testament to both how Korkmaz has emerged this season, and the Sixers' lack of high-level shooting. His growing confidence, quick-trigger, range to fire from firmly beyond the arc, crafty pump fakes and side steps separate his shooting from others on the team. He also ranks in the 85th percentile on spot-up possessions and the 86th percentile off screens (albeit in a small sample, as the latter play type only accounts for 8.7 percent of his possessions).

“This year I’m feeling more confidence on the court with every game,” Korkmaz said after the Bulls game. “Doesn’t matter if it’s a good shot or bad shot, I’m just ready and focused to make shots… it’s about trying to help the team on the court. Every time I’m trying to put the team first and me second, but I’m glad the last couple of weeks I’m really helping my team and teammates to get the W.”

There’s no doubt the Sixers could use more three-point firepower, even with the additions of Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks. But Korkmaz deserves credit for how much he's stepped up this season. His defense, despite still being a liability at times, has also improved.

Whether he’s shooting off movement, spotting up, or using plays designed for him, Korkmaz is proving his worth as a quality shooter. If the Sixers can keep running a few simple actions through him to generate three-point looks and extra movement, it will be a real help to the offense. Without Korkmaz getting the chance to step forward, the Sixers might not have ended last week with two wins.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.