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Furkan Korkmaz relieved to ‘finally’ snap out of shooting slump and contribute to the Sixers

After struggling for more than seven weeks, Korkmaz scored 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting in 15 minutes of the Sixers' win at Washington.

Sixers guard Furkan Korkmaz shooting the basketball against the Atlanta Hawks on Dec. 23.
Sixers guard Furkan Korkmaz shooting the basketball against the Atlanta Hawks on Dec. 23.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

TORONTO — Ahead of Sunday’s game in Washington, Furkan Korkmaz approached 76ers assistant coach Brian Adams with a declaration.

“BA, today is that day,” Korkmaz said. “This is going to be over.”

“This” referred to what Korkmaz regards as the most significant shooting slump of his career, which has now lasted more than seven weeks. And Korkmaz’s prediction came true. He went 5-of-9 from the floor, including hitting two three-pointers, against the Wizards to score 14 points in 15 minutes of a dominant 117-96 victory.

The long-awaited breakout prompted the same relieved reaction from Korkmaz and star teammate Joel Embiid.

“Finally,” Embiid said with an exhale after the game. “I’ve been talking to him. We needed that. We need him to be aggressive. We need him to make shots.”

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After missing his first three-point attempt soon after checking into the game in the first quarter, Korkmaz made his second three-point shot with 52 seconds left in the quarter. Early in the second period, a missed three bounced off from the rim right back to him, and he buried his second three. He got downhill for an and-one bucket that ignited the Sixers’ bench, then made a long two from the corner as he fell to the floor. Later, he drew a foul in the final second of the third quarter, then hit a tough turnaround baseline jumper at the end of the shot clock.

Sixers coach Doc Rivers attributed Korkmaz’s versatile, efficient production to stronger team-wide ball movement, along with Korkmaz not forcing things when it found his hands.

“You have to play the right way all the time, and you can’t make it personal,” Rivers said. “It can’t be about you. If you’re struggling, you’ve still got to play the right way for the team. It shouldn’t be an issue, because playing the right way helps us win games. Playing the wrong way helps us lose games.”

Korkmaz put up a couple massive shooting performances in the Sixers’ first 10 games, including a 4-for-4 fourth-quarter barrage from three-point range in a season-opening win at New Orleans and a 7-of-9 effort from beyond the arc in a Nov. 6 victory in Chicago. Then from Nov. 9 until Sunday, Korkmaz shot 29.5% from the floor and 17.8% from long range over 18 games.

That stretch included going 1-for-12 from deep against Milwaukee on Nov. 9, 0-for-6 at Utah on Nov. 16, 0-for-5 against the Jazz on Dec. 9, and 0-for-4 at Portland on Nov. 20, against Orlando on Nov. 29 and at Charlotte on Dec. 6. Before Sunday, the last time Korkmaz, a career 36.4% three-point shooter, had made more than one in a game was when he went 2-of-4 from deep in a Nov. 22 win at Sacramento.

Eventually, Rivers noticed Korkmaz turning down shots.

“I just know the only way you get out of any kind of shooting slump is by shooting,” Rivers said. “I’ve never heard of getting out of one by not shooting, so we encourage it every day.”

Korkmaz did not notice anything off with his mechanics throughout his struggles. He consistently knocked down the extra attempts he launched before and after team workouts. But he acknowledged the mental hurdle that results from suddenly becoming unable to deliver on his best skill.

Leaning into the meditation he has practiced for about two years has helped. So have the teammates who have instilled confidence and offered candid feedback. Embiid noticed Korkmaz was no longer holding his follow through, something the All-Star center nitpicks in his own game while watching film of himself.

“I thought he rushed his shots a lot lately,” Embiid said of Korkmaz. “ … Every single shot he took, he was basically throwing the ball and running back on defense and he wasn’t holding his follow through. So that was the main thing I kept telling him.”

Korkmaz’s recent struggles have not just been on the floor. For about two weeks, he has been dealing with a non-COVID illness that he described as a bad cold. Medication did not do much to help his sore throat, stuffy nose and fatigue. One day, “I just woke up and then I couldn’t even move out of the bed,” Korkmaz said, causing him to miss three games.

Rivers understands the frustration of a shooting slump. When asked about Korkmaz before Sunday’s game, the coach described a poor free-throw stretch he once experienced as a player. When teammates told him, “Keep shooting!” after a miss, inside his head he would counter with, “Shut the [expletive] up.”

“It’s just a tough thing, but he’ll get out of it,” Rivers said or Korkmaz. “I just can’t tell you when.”

The answer turned out to be Sunday night against the Wizards, just as Korkmaz predicted. The next step is rediscovering his consistency, starting with Tuesday’s matchup against a Raptors team that he shot 3-for-10 from three-point range against in early November.

“We should be able to step out there and play the same game every night, but that doesn’t happen,” Korkmaz said. “Even when you’re a superstar, that doesn’t happen. There are some nights [you struggle], but I should limit those and then just keep playing well.”