Joel Embiid’s Dynamism, Furkan Korkmaz’s Surge, More Takeaways From Win
The Sixers wrapped up a four-game road trip Monday with a win in Dallas. The victory over the Mavericks made them 3-1 on the trip, this after going 4-2 on a season-long six-game road slate.
The Sixers are currently tied with the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns for the most road wins (17) in the NBA. What a difference a year makes, huh?
After a wire-to-wire win against the Mavericks, we look at Joel Embiid’s ridiculous combination of power and skill, Furkan Korkmaz’s recent surge, and Ben Simmons taking a positive step in our takeaways.
More than a big
This is just getting out of hand. At this point, it’s a disappointment when Embiid doesn’t have a dominant performance. Embiid posted 36 points in under 26 minutes and got anyone resembling a big in foul trouble in the process.
The attitudinal shift we’ve seen from the All-Star center is a big part of his success. After a subpar game in New Orleans Friday, Embiid came back out on the court, firing up a bunch of midrange jumpers. While that shot has been almost automatic for him this season, his head coach was pleased with the way his big man attacked every defender the Mavericks threw at him.
“I thought he played in attack mode all night,” Rivers said. “He didn’t settle. It felt like the last couple games he’d been settling. ... I thought he was phenomenal in how aggressive he was.
“He made the right plays. He made some great plays off the double teams, then they didn’t want to double team, which [meant] Joel got what he wanted.”
As Rivers has noted before, Embiid has not only improved handling doubles but actually invites them. When teams have aggressively doubled – and tripled – Embiid this season, he’s navigated it so well to the point where it’s a borderline bad strategy to double him. It also gets teams out of their desired defensive schemes and preferred lineups.
While Embiid looks like arguably the best big man in the game right now, he more views himself as a basketball player that just happens to be seven feet tall. That overall dynamism is what makes him nearly unguardable.
“This year, the system that we have in place is dynamic,” Embiid said. “It allows me to be a basketball player. I’m able to run the offense – to score or to facilitate for other guys. It allows me to just be myself. …
“I’ve never seen myself as just being a post player. I’ve always seen myself being like Kevin Durant – shooting off the dribble, handling the ball, crossing over [guys], posting up.”
We’ve seen dominant big men like Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon, but Embiid is different. He has the brute strength and size of O’Neal but has a lot of the skill and touch of Olajuwon. We’re truly watching a generational talent.
Quite a Furkan stretch for the bench
The Sixers’ bench has been inconsistent and at times a sore spot. While players like Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle and Dwight Howard seemed to have spots somewhat locked down, Furkan Korkmaz looked like the odd man out after the acquisition of George Hill.
Not so fast.
The Turkish wing has had himself quite a week, averaging 15.5 points and shooting 44.8 percent from three over his last four games. He’s scored 20 points in each of the last two and has hit four threes in each of the last three.
He’s been providing the Sixers exactly what they need by staying within himself and not trying to do too much.
“He has great rhythm,” Rivers said. "He’s doing less. I thought he went through that stretch where he was trying to do too much with the ball. And now he’s not. He’s taking the shot when he has it. [Making] straight-line drives, which is phenomenal for us. He’s not dancing with the ball anymore.”
Taking and making threes is the most important thing Korkmaz brings to the table. He has the quickest and most confident trigger on the team. When he’s hot, he can completely transform some of the Sixers’ lineups that are lacking in three-point firepower.
But for Korkmaz to stay on the court – especially in the postseason – he needs to defend the way he has recently. The reality is that Korkmaz lacks the lateral quickness to stay in front of most guys. What he’s been doing recently is aggressively playing the passing lanes and taking charges at every opportunity.
Korkmaz is playing smarter and adapting defensively, while Milton and Thybulle both had strong nights of their own. If that continues, it’s going to force Rivers into some tough decisions.
But that’s a great problem to have.
Simmons feeling good
There’s no use sugarcoating it: Simmons hadn’t been good offensively since the All-Star break.
Before the win in Dallas, Simmons was averaging just 5.9 assists and a whopping 3.6 turnovers in his first 14 games of the second half. He was also shooting 46.9 percent from the field, a poor number considering Simmons takes most of his shots at or near the rim.
Against the Mavericks, he was the perfect running mate for the red-hot Embiid. In just 24 minutes, Simmons scored eight points (3 of 6) and had seven assists to just one turnover. While his struggles at the line are troubling (2 of 6), he was able to get to there with aggressive drives.
It was arguably Simmons’ most complete game since the break.
“His attacks to the basket were not passive attacks. They were aggressive attacks,” Rivers said. “Either [he’s] going to lay it in or you’re going to foul him. Not going away, trying to get away from it – going through people. And he did that.
“And the other half he drove in and kicked it. I thought he had the perfect pace to the game tonight.”
Simmons hadn’t spoken to the media since he said he “needed to get [his] s--- together” after an embarrassing loss in Denver back on March 30.
Postgame Monday, he seemed upbeat and very ready for Wednesday’s matchup against the Brooklyn Nets.
“Obviously Brooklyn has a lot of talent,” Simmons said, “but at the end of the day, there’s only one ball and you have to play defense too. We have to come in prepared mentally and physically.”
Speaking of defense, Simmons yet again led his own campaign for Defensive Player of the Year.
“I feel like to be one of the frontrunners is great, but I want to separate myself,” Simmons said. “I want to be a clear-cut No. 1 defender in the league. I’ve got a lot of work to do, lot of games to be played, but I want to be the No. 1 guy. I don’t want to be second or third.”
A confident and motivated Simmons is a good thing for the Sixers.