Furkan Korkmaz is approaching the remaining 17 games like he’s auditioning for a role in the playoffs.
The 76ers guard, a shooter expected to deliver offense off the bench, knows making the postseason rotation might not be guaranteed after the team acquired guard George Hill in a trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 25.
Postseason experience is Hill’s specialty.
Hill has averaged 12.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and a shade under one steal a game, while shooting 37% on three-pointers with 91 starts in his 127 postseason appearances. The expectation is that Hill will be one of the first two players off the bench come playoff time.
So where does that leave Korkmaz?
One has to assume that Dwight Howard will get a spot. Shake Milton, the team’s sixth man and fourth-leading scorer, appears to have the edge over Korkmaz for an eighth spot. And Matisse Thybulle will be at least a situational player due to his stellar defense.
“If I say no I don’t [view these games as auditions] it’s not going to be realistic, to be honest,” Korkmaz said. “Of course, you got to secure yourself, your minutes, because we have the rotation. Now George is going to be in there, too. That’s the reality. That’s how the NBA goes.”
Just a fourth-year player, Korkmaz knows he has to keep fighting for playing time. So, of course he’s thinking about it. But he’s not putting extra pressure on himself.
“At the end of the day, there’s some things that you can control [and] some things that you cannot control,” he said, “and I’m trying. I’m just trying to control my thing.”
Korkmaz has recently been doing a great job of that.
He took a season average of 9.2 points and a career-best 0.9 steals per game into Wednesday night’s game against the Brooklyn Nets. Korkmaz has scored in double digits in each of his past four games.
He had a season-high 20 points on 7-for-13 shooting, including 4 of 10 three-pointers, in Saturday’s 117-93 road victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Standing out on both sides of the ball, Korkmaz also had a career-high five steals.
Proving his defense wasn’t a fluke, he had three steals while finishing with another 20-point performance in Monday’s 113-95 road win at the Dallas Mavericks.
Excelling on the defensive end has been more gratifying than back-to-back 20-point outings.
“I mean, when I’m going into the games, I know I will score in some ways,” said Korkmaz, who scored a career-high 34 points against the Memphis Grizzlies on Feb. 7, 2020. “There are some games you score two points, eight points, 10 points ... But, defensively, when my coaching staff, my teammates talk about my defense, that makes me proud of myself.”
He’s definitely shown defensive improvement over his four years with the team. At one point, Korkmaz was a defensive liability, a player opposing teams consistently attacked. As a result, it was hard to justify keeping him on the floor, especially when he wasn’t making shots.
“Defensively, I just started to [learn the NBA] game more,” he said. “I’ve been here long enough to [learn the] game defensively, especially because it takes a lot of time. It’s a different game. You’ve got to be better one-on-one.”
Korkmaz is also preparing for his opponents by reading scouting reports.
He’s definitely come a long way from when he requested a trade during the 2018-19 season. Back then, he wanted out because of a lack of playing time. While the Sixers didn’t move him, they declined to pick up his $2.03 million third-year option.
However, he opted to re-sign in July 2019 because the Sixers were the only team that offered a guaranteed first year of a two-year deal. He was an option for the Sixers after a lot of the league’s free-agent sharpshooters had already received deals.
So Korkmaz played for a league minimum of $1.6 million in 2019-20. The second year of his contract didn’t become guaranteed until November.
Last season, he joined JJ Redick as the only Sixers reserves to score 30-plus points in consecutive games since bench stats were first kept during the 1970-71 season.
He had 31 points in a 118-111 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Feb. 9, 2020, at the Wells Fargo Center, two days after he scored the 34 points against the Grizzlies.
Korkmaz often failed to live up to expectations as recent as a year ago. Sure it was great to have solid performances against the Bulls and Grizzlies in a low-pressure role off the bench. But getting the start the next game against the Clippers, he failed to score while missing all five of his shot attempts.
This season, especially in recent games, he’s been more consistent and displaying defensive improvement. It could earn him a spot in the Sixers’ postseason rotation.