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How Furkan Korkmaz is finding success off the Sixers’ bench

A look at interesting trends for Furkan Korkmaz.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

All statistics contained herein are official as of the morning of April 21st. Stats are sourced from Cleaning The Glass and NBA Stats. Cleaning The Glass requires a subscription, but if you are an NBA nerd, I can’t recommend it enough.

Over the last two seasons, no Sixers player has been more overlooked or underrated than Furkan Korkmaz. Despite being on the verge of exiting the NBA last summer, Korkmaz has been a plus bench player for most of his career. With each season, he only improves and this year has been no different. In this article, we’ll look at some interesting trends and statistics that shed light on Korkmaz’s contributions to the Sixers’ successful season.

Still a Sniper

The one aspect of the game that Furkan Korkmaz has always been expected to succeed in is long distance shooting. Even as Korkmaz initially struggled from behind the arc transitioning into the NBA (32.3% 3PT in his first two seasons) from Europe, his form and high release point provided reasons for optimism. By his third season, Kork worked his way into elite shooting territory: in 2019-20, Furkan shot 40.2% on 4.9 threes attempted a game. This year, Korkmaz’s 3PT percentage is back down to a much more average 37.3% (5.0 attempts/game) but there’s more than meets the eye behind that number.

The month of February was brutal for Korkmaz, shooting a woeful 27.8% from deep. However, if we remove February from the data, Furkan’s 3PT percentage would be a much more characteristic 40.2%, exactly the rate at which he hit threes last season. We can’t actually just remove the data — that happened, he shot poorly and it negatively impacted the team as they barely managed a .500 record in February. But it’s much more likely February was an aberration than was 2019-20 or January, March and April of this year.

Make no mistake, Korkmaz is a sniper from deep and he knows it. Of about 8 shot attempts per game this season, 5 are from 3PT. His presence opens up the floor and his play adheres to the principle of the minimum effective dose: he does what the Sixers need of him and only what they need of him. That is the essence of a true role player.

Furkan the... Four?

Korkmaz has played 374 possessions as a “power forward” in 2020-21, or about 22% of his overall minutes. (For context, the Sixers’ starters have played 1000 possessions together.) Across those possessions, the Sixers have a point differential of +2.9 which ranks in the 68th percentile of all lineups. This relatively small sample is encouraging and if it continues, it bodes well for Philly for two reasons. The first is that the Sixers need to reduce Mike Scott’s minutes when possible, who is the regular reserve power forward, as he’s struggled mightily on offense this season. The second is that when Korkmaz is at the four, it usually means that either Ben Simmons or Tyrese Maxey are surrounded by three shooters (well, Matisse Thybulle at least plays like one) and a center, the optimal spacing environment for both players offensively.

Most Sixers fans’ intuition would suggest that these lineups must be lighting up the scoreboard on offense, but it’s on the opposite end of the floor where Korkmaz-at-the-four lineups excel. Opponents are scoring just 1.094 points per possession (78th percentile), as these lineups a) limit transition opportunities for opponents to about 14 per 100 possessions and b) have defended well in the halfcourt, allowing just 0.940 points per halfcourt play. This isn’t to say that Korkmaz is the driving force behind the defensive success, just that his placement at the four, so far, has been more than sustainable.

Only in spurts do the Sixers go with Furkan at power forward and appropriately so. It needs to be the right matchup as Korkmaz could become a target for larger or more athletic forwards. But with the way the NBA has trended in recent seasons, Korkmaz could age into more and more action at the four as his career progresses.

Speaking of Defense

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Sixers are strong defensively with Korkmaz at the four. Going off FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR, an all-in-one metric that attempts to capture player impact, Korkmaz has been more impactful on defense than offense each of the last three seasons. There’s good defenders and there’s defenders who manage to not get exploited. I’m not sure which of these two categories Korkmaz falls into, but I’m leaning the latter. Even still, it’s not as if Korkmaz is merely avoiding the attention of opposing offenses.

Korkmaz is deceptively long. He by no means appears small in stature, but the 6’7” listing on his player profile is always a little jarring. Add to it: a 6’10” wingspan. Furkan uses those long arms to swipe the ball from unsuspecting opponents and jump passing lanes when his length is not respected (which is often). In fact, Furk is tied with Ben Simmons and Danny Green for the second most steals per-36 on the Sixers this season at 1.7. Cleaning The Glass lists Korkmaz’s steal percentage at 2.0%, a rate that ranks in the 87th percentile for his position.

Let’s not get crazy: Kork is no lockdown defender just because he racks up steals. And he plays most of his minutes against bench players, so he’s not out there guarding Jordan. But what’s important is that on an on/off basis, the Sixers are allowing about 2 points less per 100 possessions when Furkan is on the court than off. For many bench shooters, you’re hoping for neutral defense at best. Korkmaz has been a plus defender this season, which is more than anyone in the Sixers universe would ask of him.

Furkan Korkmaz has his limitations. He doesn’t get to the rim and he is not a playmaker, and on top of already not getting to the line often, his free throw percentage is oddly low for a shooter of his caliber. In the playoffs, that plus-defense track record of his could flip. But the Sixers need depth and few players outside of the starting lineup offer Korkmaz’s level of consistency. There is an argument to be made that he is the team’s most reliable bench player and reliability is key off the bench. There should be no question among Sixers fans that Furkan has made significant contributions to the Sixers’ best of the East (so far) campaign. At age 23, Korkmaz hits threes at a 40%-ish clip with high volume (yet overall low usage), increasingly offers positional versatility, and plays plus defense while creating turnovers.

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