I recall a line delivered by platinum-selling artist and Tobias Harris doppelganger J. Cole on his 2010 mixtape Friday Night Lights that reads, “Keep grinding, boy, your life can change in one year.”
First off, I already know I’m going to be getting slack for quoting J Cole. His music’s boring, he never has any features, he’s kind of corny, yada yada yada. But in many ways, the last year or so for Furkan Korkmaz has epitomized those Cole lyrics in every sense of the word.
What Once Was
It’s truly astonishing how far he’s come in this short amount of time when you think about it. It wasn’t too long ago that Furkan was hardly more than the afterthought in the eyes of many Sixers fans, admittedly myself included. He seemed destined to draw the eternal ire of Sixers fans as the dude Bryan Colangelo took over Pascal Siakam in 2016. It got so bad that he went so far as to put in a trade request not long after his third-year option had been declined.
He very nearly returned to play in his native Turkey before he surprisingly re-signed with the Sixers this past summer. At the time, to call it a head-scratcher was quite the understatement. The man had literally wanted out the season before, and now for some reason he wants to come back? It felt like that episode of Seinfeld when George quits his job and then goes back in the next day like nothing happened. Spoiler alert: that strategy didn’t work out too well.
It appeared almost certain that Furk was bound for more of the bench-warming duty he found himself in charge of the previous two seasons, especially considering how stacked this Sixers team is.
Man, I’ve never felt so good to be wrong.
What Now Is
Furky From Turkey With the Jerky has been a revelation this season. He’s the Sixers’ highest scoring reserve, averaging around 8.7 points per game. He recently dropped a career-high 24 points, which included six threes on eight attempts, in the Sixers’ win over the Chicago Bulls last Friday. Korkmaz has emerged as one of this team’s more reliable perimeter threats off the bench. Everyone knew that his path to the NBA would be through this shooting. But he’s shown off a level of that skill set none of us ever thought he would be capable of displaying at any point in his career.
Growing a Bomber
Brett Brown had talked earlier this season about his need to “grow a bomber.” A guy whom he can rely on to make things happen from beyond the arc. Someone with the, at times irrational, confidence to let it fly without caring what the outcome will be. Following JJ Redick’s departure in free-agency this past summer, this was as glaring a need as there was for this Sixers squad.
The Sixers as a whole have been very up and down when it comes to their outside shooting this season, yet Furkan’s been a clear bright spot in that regard. He’s converted on 39.2% of his threes thus far, which is tops on the team, on just over four attempts per game. Taking advantage of catch-and-shoot opportunities has played a big part, as Furk’s hitting them at a 43% clip on 3.5 attempts per game. Of late, Brett’s also been having him run some Redick-esque plays coming off of screens and dribble hand-offs. He’s even dabbled at some pick-and-roll with Ben Simmons as the roll man.
As he’s shown multiple times throughout the season, when Furk’s really feeling it, the buckets can come in bunches. Case in point is his aforementioned career night against Chicago. He hit four threes in a span of what felt like less than a minute in the third quarter to extend the lead to double digits. You couldn’t help but just laugh while watching it. Furkan catching a heater is a glorious sight to witness because, well, it’s Furkan.
His hot shooting has translated into some pretty clutch shots in crunch time this season. Of course, the most memorable one being the game-winner he hit against the Portland Trail Blazers back in November to cap off a 21-point comeback on the road. I can’t recall ever being happier for a human being in my life than I was for him after he hit that shot. Every single one of his teammates I’m sure share that same sentiment.
But arguably Furkan’s biggest development has been on the defensive end. While he’s obviously not an absolute defensive stopper, he’s at least no longer a total negative on that end of the floor. He’ll have spurts where he’ll get owned by pick-and-roll maestros, a la Dennis Schroeder a few weeks back. Yet he’s a competent defender who does a relatively good job at staying in front of his man. He knows where he has to be and can hold his own. And when you consider where he was not too long ago, you’ll certainly take the development.
I think it’s fair to say that what we’re seeing from Furk is not a fluke. The sample size is big enough. He’s more than just the guy that wears absurdly bright-colored shoes on the court. He’s an actual contributor on a contending team. Korkmaz is the bomber they hoped they could foster this season.
Obviously there’s going to be some very fair scrutiny throughout the remainder of the season. Will he continue to shoot at this rampant a pace for the entire season? Does he have what it takes to contribute in a playoff setting? Will he get exposed defensively in the playoffs, rendering him unplayable?
Regardless, no one can deny it’s been one heck of story.