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Furkan Korkmaz deserves a spot in the rotation

Furkan Korkmaz wants to be a part of the Philadelphia 76ers’ regular rotation. Some fans feel he’s ready, while others view Landry Shamet as the better option. Regardless of who’s right, it appears that Korkmaz has fallen behind Shamet in the pecking order, but that doesn’t mean it will stay that way.

The rotation battle between Philadelphia 76ers shooting guards Landry Shamet and Furkan Kormaz to be the primary Jerryd Bayless/Zhaire Smith/Wilson Chandler replacement appears to have concluded with Shamet a step ahead. While I’m all for the rookie getting his chance, I remain unconvinced that he’s the better option.

After four preseason games, here are the numbers:

  • Landry Shamet: 8.8 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 1 APG, 0 SPG, on 6-17 (35%) from deep, and 11-27 (41%) from the field
  • Furkan Korkmaz: 10.3 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 0.3 APG, 0.5 SPG, on 8-15 (53%) shooting from deep, and 15-24 (63%) from the field

In addition to those numbers, Shamet’s plus/minus was better, but he played more minutes with better players around him. If you want to get nit-picky, Shamet was 7-7 from the free throw line, while Korkmaz was only 3-4. Additionally, Korkmaz mostly played in fourth quarters against inferior competition, and you could argue that Shamet’s numbers would be better if he too had played the bulk of his minutes against backups, although many of those backups were still NBA players, and it was good to see Korkmaz excelling against lesser competition rather than playing down to their level.

Which is the heart of this debate: Given Korkmaz’s strong comparison to Shamet as well as his high levels of play in both Summer League and the preseason, he has earned a chance to be more than an end of the bench guy.

Ultimately, it’s hard to go wrong with either one of these players. In broad terms, Korkmaz and Shamet are essentially identical, both being 21 years old, born in 1997, and both were first-round selections by Philadelphia, both drafted with the 26th overall pick.

You could argue that Shamet is a slightly better defender, has the higher basketball I.Q., and moves better without the ball, but Korkmaz is longer, moves well without the ball himself, and is the better shooter. At the end of the day, both players require a larger sample size in order to meaningfully differentiate themselves in terms of whose skill set best fits this roster.

Although it appears, at least in the mind of Brett Brown, that one of them has already separated.

In the first preseason game, both played 12 minutes. In the second, both played 19. In the third, Shamet logged 24 minutes while Korkmaz only got nine. In the preseason finale, Shamet played 17 minutes to Korkmaz’s 10.

Which makes Korkmaz’s numbers all the more impressive. Yes, he largely played against inferior competition relative to Shamet, and yes Shamet played a lot of minutes with guys who should take more shots than him, but Korkmaz still dropped eight points on 2-3 shooting from deep and 3-6 from the field in a mere nine minutes in the Sixers’ third preseason game.In the finale, he scored another eight, again going 2-3 from deep and a slightly better 3-4 from the field in 10 minutes.

His efficient offensive play at least begs for a legitimate shot at being a consistent scoring weapon off the bench.

This isn’t about a roster spot. Both Korkmaz and Shamet will be on the roster. This is about who gets the first shot to play anywhere from 15-25 minutes a night while Wilson Chandler is out, who plays somewhere between 5-15 minutes in relief, and then which player gets the first crack at maintaining a regular rotation spot once Chandler and others return.

For Sixers fans, this can only end well. Both are good looking young players poised and motivated to contribute.

Perhaps Shamet begins the season on fire and never lets go of his spot. Maybe he starts cold or goes cold at some point, opening the door. Enter Korkmaz, who takes advantage and never looks back. Or maybe Korkmaz gets cold at some point and the Sixers revert to Shamet. No matter what happens, these guys improve the Sixers’ depth.

The problem with added depth, though, is that sometimes you have too many capable players and not enough minutes to go around.

The Sixers appear poised to begin the season with Shamet as their preferred option. If that remains the reality when Wilson Chandler and others return, Korkmaz will have to handle another stretch of watching from the bench, yearning to play, mostly coming on in garbage time.

At least early on, he’ll sit in favor of Shamet during important stretches of game during which he’d like to play. Last year, that probably didn’t phase him. He knew his place. This year, he’s probably a good enough teammate to play it stoic, but he’ll likely feel that he could and should be out there over Shamet, even if he never says so.

Which is a truly tough situation for Korkmaz, especially when you’re 21, you were here before Shamet, and all you want is a chance to prove yourself. All you want is for your coach and your teammates to see that you can be relied upon, are worth believing in, and can be an important piece of this special process they’re trying to complete. And yet you keep getting the short end of the minutes, now behind a guy you feel you should be ahead of, waiting, working, wondering when, if your shot will come.

Furkan Korkmaz is not going to make or break the Sixers’ season, but if Wilson Chandler misses another stretch or two of games, if Bayless can’t stay healthy and/or productive, or if Shamet either gets hurt or has some tough stretches of play, the team is going to look to Korkmaz.

Next: How do the Sixers stack up against the other 29 teams?

That means he has to remain mentally tough and work hard while he waits for his chance, keeping himself ready so that if and when the larger opportunity arrives, not only is he ready such that the team doesn’t miss a beat, but he’s prepared such that Brett Brown can no longer afford to deny him a larger role.

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