It’s common knowledge that we should only take away so much from the Summer League. The overall skill level is noticeably lower than that of a regular NBA game, and the team’s function more as a collection of individual players than one succinct unit. However, sometimes we see performances in the Summer League that show a glimpse into what a player could become in the NBA. Most casual fans (and even some more committed fans) first introduction to the Turkish sharpshooter Furkan Korkmaz was in this year’s Summer League when the 21-year-old pored in 40 points on 18 shots and made 8 three-pointers in the contest. In his post-game interview, Korkmaz was quick to shut down a comment on his individual performance and pointed out his team’s narrow loss. “This is my second year here,” said Korkmaz, “I know the basketball here, and I’ve learned how to play [in the NBA].”
Korkmaz has been improving his game steadily since being drafted 26th in the 2016 draft. After draft night, the 19-year old decided to return to Turkey for one more season, where he torched the Turkish Basketball Federation and helped his club to its first ever Turkish Cup. After winning the FIBA BCL Best Young Player Award, Korkmaz made the flight back to Philly, where the Sixers were keen on adding an abundance of shooting around one of the Process’s cornerstones: Ben Simmons. Korkmaz only touched the NBA floor in 14 games his first season, spending a lot of time in the D League. This was mostly due to him shooting the ball terribly in the D League and in the NBA to the tune of 28% field goal shooting compared to shooting 40% in Europe. But hey, he was still very young and young-foreign players usually need a few years to figure out the game. Now it’s the start of year two, and the aforementioned Summer League saw Korkmaz lace the Celtics with that 40-bomb, and people started to see what he could be.
So far this season, Korkmaz has improved one of the most essential things a skilled shooter must have: accuracy. Shooting nearly the same amount of 2s, 3s and Free Throws per 36 minutes, Furkan has nearly doubled his field goal percentage from last year. Opportunities have been rare though, as Korkmaz is still only mainly used to close out halves and sees most of his minutes in garbage time in games that are already decided. Heading into this week, Korkmaz had only played more than 20 minutes four times this year and in these games, the Sixers won by a combined 50 points, so clearly Korkmaz hasn’t been able to showcase what he could do in meaningful minutes. That changed on Monday, December 10th when Jimmy Butler left the game with an injury and Korkmaz saw the floor for 25 minutes and shot the ball really well on the way to a Sixers win. With Butler sidelined on Wednesday against the Nets, Furkan was again deployed for 34 minutes in his first start of the season. In both games, he dropped 18 points and is finally showing fans what he could be.
In the draft process, Furkan was highly lauded for two attributes: his shooting range and his ability to create his own shots. The shot creation that Furkan relied on heavily overseas has yet to be put on display at the NBA level, where he scores off an assist for 83% of his buckets (including ALL of his 3-point attempts). This is most likely due to the fact that Korkmaz never brings the ball up the floor and three-quarters of his shots come within 2 seconds or less of him touching the ball. Creation also isn’t something his current role needs him to do, as Furkan is taking a staggering 64% of his shots without a defender within 4 feet of him as he launches. The fact that Furkan is getting this many looks wide open leads to some concern, however. Even though Korkmaz is attempting a baffling amount of his shots without a defender anywhere near him, he only makes 32% of these looks, which is a bad stat in a League where the top shooters convert more than 40% of these shots.
Furkan finds himself in a strange but promising spot as he plays out the rest of this season. In late October the Sixers announced that they would not be picking up Korkmaz’s option for next season, making him a free agent next year. While it’s unfortunate that he will be removed from an opportunity where his shooting ability should allow him to see playing time for a team that will make a Playoff push if he continues to grow his game he should be a pretty hot commodity in the offseason. In a League that continues to look more and more toward streching it’s shot attempts away from the rim, there isn’t a team in the NBA that isn’t interested in adding more shooters. Furkan has shown flashes of a player that could stick in a team’s rotation and provide the shooting they desire. If Korkmaz makes the most of his current uptick in minutes he could be looking to make more than the $2 million option that the Sixers declined for next year.