UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Sixers head coach Brett Brown didn’t take it easy on the metaphors when he was asked about the state of the battle for minutes between Justin Anderson, Nik Stauskas and Furkan Korkmaz before his team’s 133-114 win over the Nets Wednesday.
Brown likened it to a fistfight and said there would probably be a “sole survivor” of the group that would receive rotational minutes to start the year. He set out clear guidelines for how he plans on evaluating the three players, who all try to add an element of offensive spacing and three-point shooting off the bench.
“It’s really simple,” Brown said. “It’s who can guard, who plays defense? The close, obvious second is: Can you make shots? The blueprint isn’t complicated. It goes in that order.”
Going by those standards, Wednesday’s contest boded well for Anderson’s prospects. The third-year player out of Virginia was the clear leader among the three in terms of meaningful minutes. Anderson spent 15:42 on the floor, much of it alongside players on the Sixers’ roster that, though reserves, have clearly-defined roles on the team, such as T.J. McConnell.
Stauskas received just 12:34 of action and did little to quell concerns about his shooting touch after he missed seven of eight shots against the Celtics on Monday.
Wednesday, Stauskas missed five of seven shots, including his only three-point attempt. Ostensibly on the roster for his three-point shooting prowess, the fourth-year guard is struggling from distance. He has missed six of his seven shots from long range this preseason. If Stauskas’ shooting form doesn’t recover, he might not have shown enough defensively by the end of the preseason to justify a spot on the Sixers’ roster, let alone a rotational role. The Sixers were minus-12 with Stauskas on the court Wednesday and he picked up three fouls.
Meanwhile, Korkmaz was an afterthought after getting 19 minutes of run Wednesday. He was involved in just 5:10 of game action in the fourth quarter, well after the outcome had been decided. Korkmaz did hit his only shot attempt of the night, a three-pointer from the left wing.
Just a 20-year-old rookie, Korkmaz is not operating under the same kind of pressure to make the roster that Stauskas and Anderson have hanging over their heads. He can spend the bulk of 2017-18 in the G League and use the extended minutes he’d likely receive with the 87ers to tune up his defense without a second thought.
That leaves Anderson, who was probably the most impressive Wednesday night on the defensive end of the floor. The 6-foot-6 Anderson was shuffled through a host of man assignments during his run with the reserves, from 6-foot-11 forward Jarrett Allen to 6-foot-6 point guard Spencer Dinwiddie.
Anderson missed his only three-pointer but looked good contesting threes on his own end of the floor. He looked particularly solid getting a hand in Dinwiddie’s face after the guard had leaked open for a flash in the right corner late in the first quarter. The Sixers were plus-8 with Anderson on the floor.
"You’ve got to want to be a defender,” Anderson said. "You’ve got to want to take that challenge. I took it personally tonight. I take it personally every night. I understand that I walk a very tight rope. I understand what my job is on this team."
Anderson took a step towards solidifying that job Wednesday night.