First, we hope everybody is enjoying the holiday season. Off the Dribble took off for Christmas, and returns after a memorable day for the Sixers.
Their 121-109 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Christmas Day showed that the Sixers can compete with the NBA’s elite. That improved their record to 23-10 entering a Florida weekend that includes games Friday in Orlando and Saturday in Miami.
The team had off from practice Thursday, basking in the win over a Bucks team that has the NBA’s best record, 27-5. Joel Embiid was dominant on both ends of the floor, but one of the unsung heroes was Furkan Korkmaz.
With two games remaining, he is already enjoying the best week of his three-year NBA career.
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The development of Korkmaz
The story is well known by now, that the Sixers really weren’t planning to bring back Korkmaz after two rather nondescript seasons for the 2016 first-round draft choice who was selected 26th overall.
When the Sixers declined the third-year option of Korkmaz in October 2018, making him a free agent at the end of last season, it appeared as if he would be on another team this year. Couple with the fact that he appeared in just four of the 12 playoff games, it seemed as though a fresh start would benefit Korkmaz.
Instead, he signed a two-year deal with the Sixers in July. Korkmaz is playing this season for the league minimum of $1.6 million, which is turning into a bargain. The second year of his contract will not be guaranteed until July 10, 2020.
Korkmaz has been a bigger contributor than many expected for the Sixers. Still just 22, the 6-foot-7 Korkmaz leads the Sixers with 53 three-point field goals, one more than Tobias Harris. Korkmaz is sixth on the team in minutes played, averaging 20:48, and is shooting 39% from three-point range.
During Monday’s win at Detroit, he scored a career-high 21 points. Korkmaz added 16 points and shot 4-for-5 from three-point range in the victory over Milwaukee. He had a game-best rating of plus-20.
“I was excited for Furkan. He was out there with confidence, shooting, not thinking, and he also has the ability to drive and screen," Sixers forward-center Al Horford said after the game. “It was a huge game for him, and I am happy to see him continue to grow.”
Imagine how Korkmaz felt.
“We are playing for a championship, and the players and coaching staff trust me, and when I am on the court, they want me to play my game,” Korkmaz said. “I have had ups and downs, and this year I am trying to be more consistent every game. There is more confidence, [for] which I credit the coaching staff.”
Korkmaz is trying to show he is more than just a three-point shooter, but if he can consistently provide that skill, it will give the Sixers a big boost, especially since they have been facing more zone defenses recently.
“The best way to break the zone is with a transitional offense or just make the three,” Korkmaz said. “[Wednesday,] we made a lot of threes, not just me.”
That is true. The Sixers made 21 threes, tying the club record set in a 149-107 win over the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves on Jan. 15, 2019.
The Sixers are 7-2 this season in games in which Korkmaz has hit three or more three-pointers.
Because of injuries, Korkmaz has started 11 games, but he is better suited for coming off the bench.
“When coming off the bench, I look to shoot the ball,” he said. “I was just feeling it and let it go.”
Keith Pompey gives his best and worst awards for the Sixers’ win over Milwaukee. Hint: Joel Embiid is mentioned prominently.
I go behind the numbers to look at Embiid’s defensive performance against Milwaukee and this season in general.
I write how Sixers GM Elton Brand just thinks the Sixers will need time to truly jell but he has championship aspirations.
David Murphy writes that the Sixers played Wednesday the way Brand thought they could when he held a press conference before their win over Milwaukee.
Pompey writes that Sixers coach Brett Brown feels the team is “designed for the playoffs.”
A rebirth for former Sixers guard Markelle Fultz
The Sixers will reunite with former first-round pick Markelle Fultz when they visit Orlando on Friday. Fultz, whose two-year tenure with the Sixers was marked by injury and disappointment, has enjoyed a resurgence with the Magic.
It’s not as if he is playing up to the standards of being the No. 1 overall pick in 2017, but Fultz has at least resurrected his career.
He was limited to a total of 33 games in his two Sixers seasons. Last season, he was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, which affected his right (shooting) shoulder, and he appeared in just 19 games. Fultz was traded on Feb. 7 to the Magic for Jonathon Simmons, a 2019 second-round pick and a 2020 top-20-protected first-rounder that had come from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Fultz, 21, is averaging 11.7 points and 4.1 assists in 29 games for the Magic. He is shooting 47.8%, but just 25.6% from three-point range.
This will be the second time Fultz has faced his former teammates. On Nov. 13, the Sixers lost, 112-97, in Orlando. Fultz had eight points and three assists in 21:06.
In his last five games, Fultz is averaging 11.4 points and shooting 3-for-7 (42.9%) from three-point range.
Tonight: Sixers at Orlando, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia and NBA TV
Tomorrow: Sixers at Miami, 8 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia
Tuesday: Sixers at Indiana, 3 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia
Jan. 3: Sixers at Houston, 8 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia, ESPN
Jan. 6: Oklahoma City at Sixers, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBA TV
Passing the rock
Question: Would you trade for Kings G Bogdan Bogdanovic? Kings paid [Buddy] Hield and need to pay [De’Aaron] Fox. — Leonard Fronzcak via email
Answer: Thanks for the question and for reading our Sixers content, Leonard. Bogdanovic is in the final year of a contract that is paying him $8.5 million this season. He will be a restricted free agent after the season.
The 6-foot-6 Serbian shooting guard is the type of shooter the Sixers or any team could use. He is shooting 40.1% from three-point range and is averaging 14.6 points (although he has missed recent time with right ankle soreness). The Kings reportedly offered him a four-year, $51 million extension.
The question is what do the Sixers have to offer Sacramento. The guess here is they wouldn’t have enough to offer for him, but he would make a lot of sense. One would think the Kings would ask for Matisse Thybulle to start, and the Sixers likely would not agree to that.