76ers

Sixers' vision of what Furkan Korkmaz could be shouldn't lead them to block out other options

Sixers' vision of what Furkan Korkmaz could be shouldn't lead them to block out other options

Before his team played its preseason finale Friday night, Brett Brown labeled the game as something approximating a dress rehearsal. But, unless a flurry of unexpected misfortune hits the Sixers before their regular-season opener Wednesday night vs. the Celtics, Furkan Korkmaz will not start, as he did against the Wizards in place of Ben Simmons (out with back tightness).

It does appear, however, that the Turkish wing will play legitimate minutes early this season. Brown seemed to confirm as much before the Sixers' 112-93 loss, talking about Korkmaz’s progress and resilience in glowing terms.

The Sixers declined Korkmaz’s third-year option last season, then ultimately re-signed the 22-year-old in late July.

I am [looking for him to contribute]. And I don’t want to be harsh about it — that’s what he’s gotta do," Brown said of where Korkmaz finds himself now after his struggles last year. "That’s part of life in the NBA. It’s not like he’s an established player. … This is not the league for the weak. 

“He should go to Europe if that was going to dismember his spirit. He’s great people, and he’s fighting to stay in the league, he’s fighting to get minutes — he’s fighting. … That’s the phase and the stage that the young man is at, and I give him credit for not blinking. He just didn’t go away. Now, here he is.

Brown’s answer was impassioned, and his words weren't bogus. But Korkmaz’s character and attitude alone don’t warrant a spot in the Sixers’ rotation. He started Friday for one primary reason — the notion that he is an outside shooter. 

Though Brown praised Korkmaz’s defense and his maturation, the Sixers’ head coach also said this:

“We’re always just trying to mine shooters. You’re trying to find and mine and help cultivate shooters. If he is anything, he is that.”

Korkmaz has, in fact, not been a good shooter at the NBA level. He’s shot 38.8 percent from the field in 62 NBA regular-season games, 32.3 percent from three-point range. After a 2-for-9 performance Friday, he finished 10 for 25 overall during the preseason, 4 for 13 from behind the arc.

The concept of Korkmaz filling a three-point shooting void after JJ Redick’s move to the Pelicans is, on its face, appealing to the Sixers. Korkmaz has a pretty shot; he’s done well in international play; he had an incredible July night last year in Las Vegas, scoring 40 points in a summer-league game.

Perhaps those hints of promise will translate to the NBA. However, if there’s an assumption that Korkmaz’s identity as a shooter makes him worthy of a rotation spot, it would be misguided.

There are alternatives in that mix for bench wing minutes, though they’re also young and unproven in the NBA.

Shake Milton, a two-way player last year, has played both at point guard and on the wing during the preseason. The SMU product, who averaged 24.9 points in 27 G-League games as a rookie, is a more advanced playmaker and a superior defender to Korkmaz. 

The 23-year-old told NBC Sports Philadelphia he hasn’t been given an indication yet of his regular-season role.

“No,” he said. “My job is just to come in and do whatever the team needs me to do. I’ve kind of been flip-flopping during practice. I’ve just got to do whatever the team needs me to do, bottom line. Guard and either make plays for others or be ready to knock down shots and score.” 

This time last year, Milton was returning to competitive basketball after missing summer league because of a stress fracture in his back. He acknowledged Friday night he feels more explosive, and he’s looked it, showing off a burst on the fast break that wasn’t present early last season.

“I feel like it’s been a huge jump, personally,” he said. “For one, the confidence that I have out there, my body feels good, feel physically ready. I go out there with confidence, my teammates have confidence in me, the coaches have confidence in me. Just going out there and being fearless.”

Zhaire Smith, meanwhile, has been seen exclusively in garbage time this preseason. Just as Korkmaz’s shooting or Milton’s versatility might be attractive to Brown, one would think Smith’s “pogo stick” athleticism and penchant for on-ball defense could boost his stock.

That hasn’t been the case, with Smith’s novel of a rookie year — one that included a broken foot, a severe allergic reaction and jumpers with tubes in his stomach — putting him behind Milton and Korkmaz at the moment, in Brown’s eyes.

“He’s expecting me to develop all around,” Smith said Friday of Brown’s expectations. “Last year we tried to develop, but then obviously I had the setback. He feels like this is my rookie year, like this is [about] development.” 

The perspective that this season should be centered on learning and personal growth for Smith is fair enough. So is the idea that Korkmaz might have unique value for the Sixers. 

He hasn’t delivered it yet, though. The Sixers would, in this writer’s view, be wise not to let their vision of his potential block out other options. 

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How the Sixers are trying to help Tobias Harris snap out of it

How the Sixers are trying to help Tobias Harris snap out of it

They say that shooters shoot.

Tobias Harris has been shooting plenty — they just haven’t been going down.

After going 0 for 11 from three on Tuesday night against the Cavs, Harris went 0 for 3 and 3 of 13 overall in the Sixers’ loss to the Magic in Orlando Wednesday (see observations).

The last three Harris hit was in the first quarter of the Sixers’ loss in Phoenix on Nov. 4. He’s missed his last 23 attempts since.

When Harris was acquired from the Clippers last season, he was shooting 43.4 percent from downtown in a healthy sample size.

So what the heck is going on?

“I'm not making shots, I'm not in a rhythm,” Harris said to reporters postgame. “That's it. Obviously, it's easier said than done but I'm going to find my rhythm and once I do those shots are going to be there and they're going to be able to be made. Until then, I'll watch film and see the looks I can get, see the easy ones I can get to, but when they're not going for me, get to the free throw line. 

“In the fourth quarter I thought that was two questionable whistles, a travel and offensive [foul]. So those are two turnovers that kind of affected our fourth quarter. But I just gotta find a rhythm. That's it.”

On top of missing, Harris just looks indecisive. During early parts of the season, he appeared to be passing up open shots. In his pregame availability before Tuesday’s win, Brett Brown made a point to talk about needing Harris to have a scorer’s mentality.

Over the last two games, Harris seems like he doesn’t know when to shoot the basketball. After shooting so poorly from the outside against Cleveland, in Orlando he appeared to just get caught in between while trying to drive to the basket more.

It just seems like Harris is in his own head.

“I think it's just human nature,” Brown said. “He wants to please, he wants to shoot the ball, he wants to score, we need him to score.”

Harris is an easy target for fan ire. GM Elton Brand gave up an awful lot to get him before last year’s trade deadline. During the summer, the Sixers gave Harris a five-year, $180 million deal — the richest in franchise history.

But to his credit, Harris hasn’t made any excuses. He faced the music Wednesday night after not playing well and not feeling well.

Brown mentioned Tuesday that Harris had been dealing with an illness. Harris didn’t want to take the easy way out and attribute that to anything.

“When I get out there and play, I'm playing,” Harris said. “I'm under the weather, yeah, but if I get out there and play, I believe I can go.”

Forget the big contract and disappointing start for a second — Harris is a worker. He’s worked on his game tirelessly to rise to the level he did last season in L.A. During the offseason, he stepped up as a leader that all of his teammates are eager and willing to follow. He’s been depended upon by the young players and veterans alike.

Now, it may be Harris who needs their support.

“Tobias has had great looks and he's a great player, great shooter,” Ben Simmons said. “I mean, at times, everybody gets down when they're not playing their best game. They know that they can do better. But he's one of those guys. He's always positive. And we all believe in him.”

The Sixers’ road trip continues Friday with a date with the Thunder. Oklahoma City is the site of Harris’ finest game as a Sixer. On Feb. 28 of last year, Harris poured in 32 points and led a tough road win without Joel Embiid.

Maybe the memory of that game will spark something in Harris.

If that doesn't work, what else can you really say?

“Keep shooting,” Brown said. “Don't listen to any of you guys. Don't read anything. Keep shooting.”

After all, shooters shoot.

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Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

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NBC Sports Philadelphia/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Tobias Harris' struggles continuing, Ben Simmons' unwillingness to shoot the ball, and why Matisse Thybulle isn't seeing more playing time.

• Another rough night for Harris. What the heck is going on?

• Simmons was strong, but still refuses to shoot the basketball outside the paint.

• Should Thybulle be getting more minutes?

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