It’s not them. It’s you. The reason the Sixers have been quiet so far is that they don’t have much noise to make. Furkan Korkmaz and Andre Drummond might not seem like the kinds of moves that will get a team over the hump, but they are the kinds of moves that are generally available to teams that are stuck where they are. That’s the whole reason teams get stuck. This is the hump. Welcome.
Free agency was never going to hold the key to the Sixers’ offseason. At the moment, they have an unofficial operating payroll of roughly $130 million, or roughly $18 million above the NBA’s salary cap threshold and $7 million below its luxury-tax threshold ($136.6 million). That includes 11 players under contract, plus the slot value for first-round pick Jaden Springer, plus the guaranteed portion of George Hill’s contract, plus a trio of penciled-in minimum salaries for the three remaining roster spots. It does not include the Sixers’ qualifying offer to restricted free agent Rayjon Tucker or a cap hold for Danny Green.
Long story short, the Sixers have about $5.9 million in spending ability for the current free-agent market, all of it in the form of the taxpayer mid-level exception. There’s a reason those exceptions exist: The rules saythe only other way a capped-out team can sign a player from outside the organization is at the veteran minimum, a la Drummond.
As we’ve noted here before, any substantial change in the makeup of the 2021-22 Sixers will come via the trade market. The Sixers still have an $8.2 million trade exception that they can use without shipping away any salary from their roster. Otherwise, they have Ben Simmons, and Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid. While Simmons is clearly the focal point, he isn’t the sort of player who gets traded without the pressure of a deadline. And training camp is still more than a month away.
Beyond the trade market, there is one way these Sixers can be a become a better version of themselves, and that’s by their existing players becoming better versions of themselves. The most notable candidates are first- and second-year players like Tyrese Maxey, Paul Reed, Isaiah Joe, and Springer. But there’s another candidate, too, and it just so happens that he is the proud owner of a brand-new three-year, $15 million contract.
Korkmaz is a player who is easy to overlook, especially because the Sixers themselves have spent so much of his career overlooking him. They drafted him with the 26th overall pick in the first round of the 2016 draft, but he stayed in Turkey until he signed with the Sixers in 2017. His first season with the Sixers, he appeared in just 14 games. After his second season, the Sixers didn’t even bother to pick up his third-year option. All of which makes his new $5 million annual salary worth a deeper look. It might not break Josh Harris’s bank. But it’s real NBA money.
The Sixers have two reasons to bring Korkmaz back at the number they did. One, he gives them more flexibility to match salaries on future trade markets. Sign a player to the mid-level exception, or re-sign Green, or acquire a player with the $8.2 million trade exception, and Daryl Morey will have the ability to cobble together somewhere in the neighborhood of $15-17 million to accommodate a future incoming contract while still retaining Seth Curry. Two, he has a real chance to develop into a nice value piece over the next three years of his deal.
Assuming Korkmaz spends the next three years in a Sixers uniform, the hope is he will continue the development we’ve seen over his last two seasons. Since the start of the 2019 season, Korkmaz’s 39% three-point shooting ranks 25th out of 61 players with at least 600 attempts and sixth out of the 19 players in that group who were in the first four seasons of their careers. He’s hardly been an elite shooter. But he’s shown flashes. Over the last 32 games of last season, he shot 40.6% from three-point range on 5.3 attempts per game. The previous season, he shot 41.8% on 5.1 attempts over his last 49 games.
How much development might still be in the cards for a 24-year-old, fifth-year player?
Consider the two charts below, which show the combined three-point shooting percentage of all non-centers over the last nine seasons. The first chart is broken down by age. The second is broken down by year of experience.
Both charts show a dramatic period of improvement over the first four seasons in the sample, followed by a longer period of more gradual improvement. That jibes with common sense. Nobody is suggesting we’re going to win a Nobel Prize here. The one interesting thing to note is that both samples show a fairly dramatic improvement between the sixth and seventh years of data. On the age chart, it’s a jump from 35.3% to 36.1% between the 26-year-olds and the 27-year-olds. On the experience chart, it’s a jump from 35.9% to 36.8% between sixth-year players and seventh-year players.
In the final year of Korkmaz’s new deal, he will be 26 years old and in his seventh season in the NBA. If he’s consistently a 40%-plus three-point shooter by that point in time, $5 million will look like a value. As things stand now, he’s a guy who would greatly benefit from ability to play with a dribble-drive creator in the halfcourt. This season he shot 45.7% on wide-open threes, second only to Seth Curry. Last year, his 47.1% mark ranked first. On all catch-and-shoot threes, Korkmaz shot 39.3% in 2020-21 and 43.6% in 2019-20.
I’m not sure that the Sixers envision Korkmaz blossoming into an elite-level catch-and-shoot guy like Curry or Joe Harris. But there’s enough natural talent, recent results, and youth to wonder where hisceiling as a shooter might be. You don’t win championships by wondering. Right now, though, it’s what the Sixers have.