The Philadelphia 76ers are contenders, but the bench is still shaky.
Despite intense criticism and a bumpy start to the season, the Philadelphia 76ers are 15-6. It’s clear the Sixers will contend in the East, even as Toronto and Boston make unexpected surges. Some still point to Philadelphia as favorites, a stance I might caution against, but nonetheless comprehend.
The Sixers’ bench has been a crippling weakness in recent campaigns. This season is better — Elton Brand and the front office made an effort to bulk up the second unit this summer — but in the end, the Sixers’ bench pales in comparison to other genuine contenders.
So far, Brett Brown’s most-used reserve has been Furkan Korkmaz. A year after his strange trade request and the subsequent inaction, Korkmaz — who almost signed overseas this summer — is the minutes-based sixth man on the roster.
You can nitpick his production (in fact, we will nitpick his production), but overall, it has been a breakout season for the Turkish wing. He’s shooting 36.2 percent on 4.7 three-point attempts per game, both career highs. His aggressiveness has doubled, and he’s far more comfortable punishing closeouts, probing inside, and seeking out floaters.
The Sixers need spacing, which makes Korkmaz both a clean fit and a borderline necessity. His willingness to shoot on the move (to a degree), combined with the general attention he commands, is a sizable boost to Brown’s game plan.
Korkmaz, however, is very much flawed, and it’s difficult to envision a team playing Korkmaz 23 minutes per game in the postseason and winning a title. Korkmaz’s playing time will decrease as the starting five gets healthier, but no matter the technicalities at hand, he’s the current minutes leader in the second unit. That’s a red flag.
When the games matter, James Ennis and Raul Neto are safe bets to see an increase in playing time. Both are solid defenders — a label Korkmaz has not yet earned — and both carry far more experience, which keeps Matisse Thybulle out of that category for the time being.
No team is built in the Sixers’ mold — big, bruising, and physical. The Sixers play inside-out or up-tempo, either running the floor with Ben Simmons or hunting mismatches in the post. Korkmaz’s skill set has a particular value in those circumstances, either as a trail-behind shooter or an off-ball mover.
That’s why the inevitable need to bench him in critical moments and critical games is grave. The Sixers have very few ‘spacers’ on the roster, and right now, Korkmaz might not have it in a playoff setting. With that in mind, the Sixers should probe the trade market.
In the end, Korkmaz still has value as a 22-year-old, 6-foot-7 wing who can shoot. He will continue to get regular season minutes, and when the playoffs hit, it’s unlikely Korkmaz will see his playing time reduced to zero.
With that said, if the postseason started today, Philadelphia would be hard-pressed to rely on Korkmaz as more than an eighth or ninth option. He’s too vulnerable on defense, and just a tad too prone to shooting slumps, to get true sixth man minutes on a contender.
The trade market isn’t teeming with notable shooters at the moment, but options are always available for the right price. The Sixers lack trade assets, but second-round picks and a handful of minimum-contract pieces could do the trick.
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