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Sixers’ Furkan Korkmaz has worked hard on his defense this season

Chicago Bulls v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Furkan Korkmaz’s breakout as a quality three-point shooter was an important development for the Philadelphia 76ers’ bench this season. Korkmaz launched 5 three-point attempts per game (8.2 per 36 minutes) and made 39.7 percent of them. He went on to lead the Sixers in total three-point makes at 126 as well, showcasing his touch off movement and off screens, quick trigger, range from a couple of steps beyond the arc, and a clear jump in confidence.

After struggling to establish a role for the first two years of his NBA career (playing just 62 total games and averaging 12.2 minutes a night), Korkmaz played 64 games before this season was suspended and even started 12, playing 21.8 minutes a night. His shooting was essential to this, but his improved defense helped, too.

Korkmaz spoke with reporters at the Sixers’ practice on Tuesday, and shared his approach to developing his defense.

His self awareness is evident. He knew his defense was a weak element of his game and hurt his chance to play more minutes, and clearly made it a point of emphasis to do what he could to improve.

“I’d say this year especially I was getting a little more charges. That was my goal, as in numbers wise,” Korkmaz explained. “But from the other side I was just trying to be solid on defense, because the first three years everybody was talking about my defense, about my weaknesses on defense. But I think this year I made a big jump on defense.”

When asked if he was fuelled to improve by negative comments about his defense, Korkmaz mentioned that he already knew his defense was an issue because of the way opponents would seek him out and attack him.

“I knew that defense was going to be a problem, because [opponents] were trying to attack on me every time I get in the game. But I think this year I changed that perspective a little bit, because I started playing better defense. Also, I talked to my teammates a lot about this, coaching staff, and also I started to learn how to defend better, you know. Because this is also about experience, it’s not just, like, how strong you are or how smart you are. It’s also kind of experience, which you need.”

No, Korkmaz hasn’t made a big enough stride to the point where his defense isn’t still a weakness. He isn’t a plus defender. There’s only so much you can do when you lack much lateral quickness and explosiveness, and he can be bullied by more dynamic players — athletic opponents singling him out in the playoffs will still be a concern. That said, Korkmaz’s attitude to so openly recognize his own flaws is commendable, and there’s no doubt he improved at that end of the floor this season. He sharpened up his awareness and rotations, and quickened his footwork to provide more competent stretches of defense than before.

“Still, I’m trying to improve myself — every part of the game, not just defense or offense,” Korkmaz said. “But I think defense is key for me to stay on the court longer, I know that.”

Chicago Bulls v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Brett Brown also talked about Korkmaz at Tuesday’s practice, from him being re-signed last year to how he carved out a bigger role. Like Korkmaz himself, Brown specifically mentioned better defense as a reason Korkmaz was able to earn more minutes.

“All of a sudden, opportunities arose for different reasons and [Korkmaz] jumped into this [role] in a significant way,” Brown said. “And I think that as I have said, his defense can’t be discounted as one of the reasons that he was able to hold onto minutes and hold onto a role. We always got he could shoot — admittedly he shot the ball well, but his defense also improved.”

Brown also reiterated that he had challenged his players to arrive in Orlando with a “B grade” fitness level. According to Brown, Korkmaz surpassed that.

Along with his impressive shooting display this season, Korkmaz has done all he can to get his NBA career on the right track. Now, it’s time for him to maintain his hot shooting and show that he can get by on defense enough to maintain a role (albeit a lesser one, perhaps) in the playoffs.

Brett Brown clearly sees Korkmaz as part of the playoff rotation, which helps show how far Korkmaz has come in a year — he only played 36 total minutes in last season’s playoffs.

“You forget [Korkmaz’s] size at times, you forget his ability to pass at times,” Brown added. “He’s very clever, very ‘Euro, [Marco] Belinelli’ clever with floaters and different reads on things. And I think all of that has been realized in a pronounced way this season, and we’re going to ask him to keep that going in the playoffs. We need his ability to shoot the ball and in general score, I’m sure, in many ways, especially when the playoffs come around.”

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