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An Insider’s Look at Kostas Antetokounmpo

Spencer Davies looks at the prospects of Kostas Antetokounmpo at the next level through the eyes of a staffer who once worked with him.

Spencer Davies

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The last name “Antetokounmpo” is an attention grabber.

When you hear it, you immediately think of the most impressive athletic specimen in all of basketball, and maybe even sports, period. Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks’ All-Star forward and literal “Greek Freak,” has opened the world’s eyes since coming into the NBA and making his presence felt.

However, he’s not the only one in the family that has the chops to play the game.

His oldest brother, Thanasis, is currently overseas after spending a brief time in the New York Knicks organization a couple of seasons ago.

His youngest brother, Alexis, is making a big name for himself at Dominican High School in Milwaukee and is rapidly growing with each year—in size and in skill.

And then there’s the fourth brother in the family, Kostas, who is out to prove that he has a whole lot to offer at the professional level despite those doubting him.

“I feel that a lot of people think that I’m less talented than I am,” Antetokounmpo said at the NBA Combine in Chicago. “I feel like I’m more talented. I haven’t really gotten the chance to really show it yet, but I feel like when the chance comes, everybody’s gonna be surprised.”

Aiming For The Pros

In two years at The University of Dayton, Antetokounmpo did not see all that much playing time, at least consistently. He played just one season in college, with only seven games where he was on the floor for over 20 minutes.

Then-Flyers head coach Archie Miller recruited Antetokounmpo and redshirted him as soon as he arrived due to being ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA.

According to a former Dayton staffer when he was a freshman, Antetokounmpo had his sights solely set on reaching the professional ranks from the jump.

“Obviously had his eyes on getting to the next level as quick as possible,” the staffer, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Basketball Insiders of redshirting Antetokounmpo.

“I know he was not thinking long-term college. I think he was thinking two and done. That was kinda our plan with him with the redshirt year, so you’re looking at three years. And that was kinda like the timetable we gave him. If things went super well for him and he had a chance to make it, we were certainly gonna push him out the door.”

There were plenty of things that stood out to the staff at Dayton when Antetokounmpo first joined the team. They weren’t things you’d typically expect skill-wise, but it was rather more about his measurables and wingspan that truly wowed them.

“Just his length,” the staffer said. “Like he’s just able to cover so much ground so quickly. Whether that’s coming over help side in the lane, to block a shot on the weak side or it’s a shot fake, one-dribble from the NBA three-point line to the basket and he dunks on you. I think just his overall length was kinda like, ‘Woah, he can cover a lot of ground.’ He can be disruptive on defense. That type of stuff.

“It wasn’t necessarily like, ‘This guy could shoot the ball, he can dribble.’ It was like, ‘This dude’s super raw, his potential is sky-high and he is super long.’”

A Change Of Pace

While he was redshirting, Antetokounmpo put a ton of time into getting better as a shooter, something he still needs to prove he can consistently do. On top of that, his stability was not the best. Posting on the block or coming off ball screens, when others players would make contact with Antetokounmpo, he’d be thrown off balance.

The objective in mind for the Flyers program was to help bring Antetokounmpo along over time, but it didn’t happen exactly as he thought it would. Fresh off yet another successful season and a regular season conference championship, Miller took an opportunity to coach at Indiana University.

Former Virginia Commonwealth and Alabama University head coach Anthony Grant was hired as Miller’s replacement. It not only changed the direction at Dayton, but it also altered the development and comfortability of Antetokounmpo.

“It’s very difficult,” the staffer said of playing for different coaches. “It was a tough situation for him because we had a detailed plan of how we were gonna get him better and all that type of stuff and then coach took a different job.

“There’s a lot of trust that goes into coming to a program and knowing the coaching staff. When somebody leaves and somebody new comes in. You have a lot of questions. You have a lot of uncertainties. So there’s a lot of different variables that can go into it.”

Admittedly, the staffer thought that Antetokounmpo would have seen the floor more last year if Miller was still at the helm.

“I’m sure we would’ve tried to utilize him more than they did,” the staffer said. “Nonetheless, it is what it is. What happened, happened. I know last year was kinda a struggle with him with coach Grant and how they used him. I’m not exactly sure what happened there. Two different stories from both sides.”

Family Values And Persistence

Regardless of whatever difficulties come his way, Antetokounmpo’s work ethic is top-notch. From staying in the gym late at night with a manager to constantly working on his body and sticking to a strict diet plan, he’s willing to do whatever it takes to achieve his goals and improve.

It’s a quality that reflects a real influence from Giannis, who has constantly mentored his brothers with advice since their childhood – so him being there to support Kostas at the combine meant a lot to his little brother.

“It was really important,” Antetokounmpo said of Giannis attending. ‘Him just being there and just seeing him—I haven’t seen him in a while, so it just made me feel real good.

“He just told me play as hard as you can. You’re not gonna make every shot, but just play as hard as you can. You can get knocked down, but get up and play as hard as you can.”

As mentioned before, the family name is recognizable across the world by now due to the superstardom of Giannis. Of course, with that will come comparisons between the two, and probably Alexis, down the road.

But Kostas knew right away the talk would surface and that he’d be a bullseye for competition.

“I feel like you can’t get caught up in that stuff, you feel me?” Antetokounmpo said. “Like, any player that’s coming up now—like every player—they’re gonna compare you to somebody. At the end of the day, you just gotta be yourself, just play your game and just show the people what you can do.

“Most of the times I got a target on my back, but you can’t do nothing. Any way you go, it’s gonna be the same thing. I tell my younger brother [Alexis] the same thing. In high school everybody’s coming for you. They’ll maybe try to foul you, talk to you, talk trash and stuff, but just keep playing. Just zone out and keep playing.”

Brothers, But Different Players

While Kostas and Giannis share the same last name, they do not share the same game. Their repertoire and style of play do not match on another. In fact, putting the two in the same breath is unheard of for where the 20-year-old is at compared to a near-MVP in his older brother.

“Anybody who thinks he’s the next Greek Freak 2.0 is mistaken because he’s not,” the staffer said. “It’s unfair to him because he has the pressure on his shoulders, but he’s just not at the stage to even be in the same conversation as his brother.

“I don’t think it’s fair to ever compare the two. They’re just two completely different people and different players.”

It’s pretty easy to support this argument. Giannis had much more of an audience that was captivated by his time overseas. Between experiences with professional ball club Filathlitikos and experience in the under-20 championships in FIBA for his native country of Greece, he was a projected first-round pick.

While Kostas also briefly played for the same professional team in Greece under the junior program, he didn’t have the opportunity to garner the same experience as his older brother did. So instead, when the family moved to Milwaukee, he played high school ball and was recruited by Miller.

With that said, it is fair to liken their respective physical frames to one another. As an 18-year-old going into the 2013 NBA Draft, Giannis was 6-foot-9 and 196 pounds. Two years older than what his brother was entering the field, Kostas measured in at 6-foot-10-and-a-half inches in height and weighed in at about 195 pounds.

“His body is a little underdeveloped still,” the staffer said. “He’s probably still growing into it. You talk to professionals and big time strength program coaches, they kinda look at his body as a blank canvas that can go a lot of different ways just given his genetics and seeing how his brother’s really filled out.

“But I think the more that, [once] he’s able to grow and get stronger and put on a little more weight, I just think his game will continue to develop and overall mature his game.”

Draft Prospects?

If you look at most mock drafts that are out there, not many of them have Antetokounmpo on the list. There may be some you come across that predict he gets taken at the tail end of the second round, but many people seem to believe he’ll go undrafted.

The staffer told Basketball Insiders that if a team does take a chance on Antetokounmpo with a pick, it will be “a little bit of a risk” due to the minuscule sample size there is with his game. Though, he can see a scenario where he’s selected in the fifties or signs a two-way contract that allows him to develop in the G-League.

“It’s easier to make a decision on somebody when you have 30 games to watch, how they compete and play against other pros whereas Kostas was playing 12-15 minutes in the Atlantic-10 not playing against too many other pros,” he said.

By the same token, there’s a probability that the organization that brings Antetokounmpo in will be happy with his self-starting attitude. Between how he approaches his day-to-day routine and how close he is with his family, who he is as a person is what truly separates him.

“I just think he has a lot of internal motivators that will drive him,” the staffer said. “I’m really curious to see what happens. I’m really excited to see how things will pan out for him.”

Antetokounmpo believes that his strongest suit he can bring to the floor is his athleticism, being a floor runner and establishing a reputation as a shot blocker.

The staffer agreed with his notion that he’s better than what he did in one season at Dayton.

“I think some people—whoever will take him—people may question like you’re taking a guy who’s not really proven or didn’t too much in college, but I think his potential is the most intriguing part,” the staffer said. “You can see the confidence he has in himself. I think it’s gonna take the right system and the right coach and the right people around him to get out the best in him.”

He might not have gotten the opportunity to prove himself much on the college stage, but it certainly sounds like Antetokounmpo will be able to rectify that at the professional level.

And if he ever gets to share the same floor as his siblings, his fantasy will have become a reality.

“Playing against all my brothers,” Antetokounmpo said. “That’s our dream, just playing against each other or even playing on the same team.”

Spencer Davies is an NBA writer based in Cleveland in his first year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past two seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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NBA Daily: Buyers Or Sellers – Atlantic Division

Drew Maresca continues Basketball Insiders’ “Buyers or Sellers” series with a break down of the Atlantic Division.

Drew Maresca

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While teams are technically allowed to trade prior to December 15, NBA trade season really heats up on that day. And with trade season comes lots of goodies like rumors to sort through, player activity on Twitter and other social media sites and – most importantly – the changes to rosters across the league.

December 15 is the line of demarcation because as of then, free agent signees from last offseason are eligible to be traded. This means teams that may have buyer’s remorse can move on from deals they regret and other teams that may have missed on a free agent target get a second chance to land their player.

The Atlantic Division features three teams in a full-on arms race – Boston, Philadelphia and Toronto – and two others preparing their rosters to make a run at free agents this coming offseason.

The Sixers already drew first blood with their trade of Robert Covington and Dario Saric for Jimmy Butler. Meanwhile, the Raptors are sitting pretty with the league’s best record through 30 games and the Celtics, at 7-3 in their last 10 games, seem to have figured out the rotational issues that have plagued them thus far.

We at Basketball Insiders began a new series examining each NBA team by division and identifying which teams should be looking to move or add salary as we quickly approach December 15. Let’s take a closer look at the teams in the Atlantic Division. 

Boston Celtics

The Celtics roster is still in a delicate state. They just recently began playing consistently good basketball. They have a gluttony of talent, but there is probably limited interest in moving any of their core pieces for anyone not named Anthony Davis – as evidenced by their apprehension to involve themselves in dealings with the Pacers for Paul George prior to last year or with the Timberwolves for Jimmy Butler prior to his trade to Philadelphia.

The one player that they should seriously consider moving, however, is Terry Rozier. Rozier is due for a raise. They could issue him the qualifying offer after the season and match the offer sheet he chooses to sign, but it is virtually an inevitability that someone will make him a lucrative offer – and one the Celtics would probably prefer to avoid paying due to luxury tax implications.

If the Celtics truly feel that Kyrie Irving is the long-term solution at point guard and that he will re-sign as he said he will, then they need to cash in Rozier. While his stock isn’t quite as high now as it was coming off of his play in the 2018 NBA Playoffs, he did nothing to hurt the perception of him. The Celtics could still probably pry some assets away from a team desperate for a point guard of the future. And considering the four first-round draft picks they control in 2019 and how onerous onboarding four rookies would be for a veteran team, the prudent move may be to package Rozier and picks for someone that fits better with the roster its timeline.

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on December 15: Aron Baynes, Jabari Bird and Brad Wanamaker

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets are in prime position to be sellers as they try to scrape together as much cap space for the free agency gold rush of 2019 as possible. Gone are the days of taking on overpaid role players in exchange for draft picks and other assets – even though they look to be a fringe playoff team and would love to get their young stars some playoff experience.

They must fight that urge. And for now, the Nets will probably stand pat. I’m sure they would like to get out from the Allen Crabbe contract considering is effect on their cap space moving forward, but that’s a tough pill for any team to swallow without sending out additional assets.

Like the Celtics, the Nets have two quality point guards and should considering moving one. The Celtics situation is far more cut and dry, though. The Nets need to first identify who they hope to build around – D’Angelo Russell or Spencer Dinwiddie. Russell will cost more, but Dinwiddie is a bit more of a scoring point guard than a facilitator. Dinwiddie just signed an three-year, $34 million extension Thursday. While they could re-sign Russell and retain both guys, it would be prohibitive to their plans in free agency. And losing Russell for nothing would be a real missed opportunity to return future assets.

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on December 15: Ed Davis, Treveon Graham and Shabazz Napier

New York Knicks

The Knicks plan to try their hand at shopping soon, too, but not yet. Now is actually prime time for the Knicks to be sellers. The team would obviously like to sign at least one superstar – if not more – this offseason. While they will likely have enough cap space to do so, part of their pitch will likely be the ability to sign a few contributors.

To make that a reality, the Knicks must trade either Courtney Lee or Tim Hardaway Jr. Hardaway has been more productive this season than ever before, but he is owed more money on a longer deal, so it’s more likely that Lee is the easier of the two to trade.

When healthy, Lee is still a productive and efficient wing who can still defend and who has shot at least .400 from three-point range in each of the last three seasons. He would be a welcome addition to virtually any contender.

Furthermore, the Knicks have at least one too many point guards. Moving on from or including either Trey Burke or Emmanuel Mudiay in a Courtney Lee trade would be ideal. While moving on from Burke or Mudiay doesn’t clear future cap space, they could make taking a gamble on Lee more appealing to a team like the Spurs or 76ers.

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on December 15: Mario Hezonja, Luke Kornet and Noah Vonleh

Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers just added Jimmy Butler to their roster in a blockbuster deal on November 11. They are 19-10 overall and 10-4 since adding Butler. They should be happy with their roster and should fight the urge to infuse it with more, new players.

I seriously doubt that the 76ers will make any other major deals. But don’t be surprised if Markelle Fultz’s name remains in trade rumors right up to the trade deadline. As recently as Thursday, Fultz was mentioned as a target of the Detroit Pistons by the Detroit Free Press. Both Fultz and the 76ers seem ready to move on. A Fultz trade seems likelier now than ever before.

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on December 15: Amir Johnson and J.J. Redick

Toronto Raptors

The Raptors’ major move came over the summer when they dealt DeMar DeRozan and netted Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. The team has played even better this season than they did last year when they were the number one seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. What more do they need? They boast the best record in the league (23-7), they swept the defending champion Golden State Warriors in their season series (including a win Wednesday night sans Leonard) and they own the second-best margin of victory in basketball.

While crazier things have happened, don’t expect Toronto to make any trades. They do need more time together, though. They will continue to improve as they learn each other’s preferences and tendencies. How scary of a thought is that?

Players whose trade restrictions are lifted on December 15: Lorenzo Brown and Greg Monroe

The Atlantic Division is among the most interesting given the depth of top-tier talent. One move can swing the balance of power in the division – and the conference – considerably. It will be interesting to see if any of the division’s juggernauts make any major moves, or if either of the New York-area teams can either nab a star or clear more space.

Make sure to follow along here at Basketball Insiders with the rest of the divisions as well as any trade news and reactions as they happen.

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Noah Vonleh is Making His Mark on New York

Noah Vonleh is having a breakout season for the New York Knicks. Will he be a part of the team’s future or will he land elsewhere?

Drew Maresca

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New York Knicks’ Coach David Fizdale has described Noah Vonleh as the team’s most versatile player numerous times in recent conversations with the media. In fact, Fizdale believes that Vonleh is the key to the Knicks’ success.

“It kills us (when he doesn’t play well). It hurts us big time,” he said following the team’s recent loss to the Charlotte Hornets. “We rely on him for a lot of different aspects of the game. For the most part, he’s been playing well for us this year. And he’s a huge part of our success when we win. And when we struggle, he’s usually not having his best games.”

Vonleh’s potential has been evident for some time. And while he was thought of highly enough to be selected ninth overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, his transition to the NBA has been anything but seamless. But Vonleh is clearly beginning to realize his potential and if he remains on his current trajectory, he could justify his draft status and then some.

Vonleh entered the NBA as an 18-year old after only one season at Indiana. While in college, Vonleh averaged nearly 12 points and nine rebounds per game, shooting a scorching .485 from deep. His hands measured biggest in his draft class and his wingspan was 7’ 4.25”. His potential was noted, as was how unpolished he was.

Entering the draft, Vonleh was cited for his length, rebounding ability, speed on the break and his potential to stretch the floor by NBADraft.net. The only real criticisms of his game were a lack of confidence and inexperience. Bleacher Report was even higher on Vonleh, projecting his ceiling to be between Chris Bosh and Harrison Barnes.

Fast forward to the present and Vonleh has played for four teams in his four and a half seasons in the league, but a good deal of the rationale behind that is simply a lack of opportunity. Vonleh hasn’t played more than 19 minutes per game until this season. Vonleh’s game may have been raw, but he has been on a carousel of border-line playoff teams hoping to add established talent, not projects.

He was drafted by Charlotte; however, he was included in a deal that returned Nic Batum after only one season with the team. He was then dealt from Portland to Chicago in a deal in which the Blazers were attempting to avoid the luxury tax. Unfortunately for Vonleh, he didn’t stick with the Bulls for more than the second-half of the 2017-18 season either. And while his time with those three clubs was mostly unspectacular, he has begun to turn heads in New York.

Vonleh has earned a spot in the Knicks’ starting lineup. He is averaging career highs in points (8.2) and rebounds (8.1) in 25.6 minutes per game. His is also posting a career-best PER (15.5).

But the key to Vonleh’s strong play very well may be his three-point shooting. He is shooting .440 from downtown through 28 games; his next best three-point percentage was .303 last season. And while he’s only attempting 1.8 per game, his shooting prowess presents a threat to opposing defenses, forcing them to extend out to him on the perimeter.

While he’s always been an above average shooter, three-point shooting was a point of emphasis for Vonleh this past offseason.

“I worked on the three-ball a lot this offseason. I work on it each offseason so as to not limit myself as a player and to keep expanding my game,” Vonleh said. “This summer, I put in a lot of work. I did some work in Atlanta and some more time back here in New York and the results are starting to show. In the summer time, I was doing some stuff like that (shooting 1,000 shots a day) after an on-court workout. Get in there, get up a bunch of threes. Now during the season, it’s just staying in rhythm. Playing shooting games with some of the guys on the team: Emmanuel Muddiay, Ron Baker sometimes Luke Kornet.” And while the process seems tedious – Vonleh said it was “Countless hours. Way too many to keep track of” – it appears to now be paying dividends.

And despite all of the progress and the praise from Coach Fizdale, Vonleh is only 23 years old. He could still make improvements to his game, or he could remain the productive player he’s been so far this season – either course of action is a good one for whichever team he ends up with long term. Vonleh signed a one-year deal with the Knicks this past offseason; the Knicks will likely explore re-signing him to a longer-term arrangement in the near future.

Vonleh has been embraced by the Garden faithful and coaching staff alike. And the feeling seems to be mutual.

“New York is a great city. It’s a great opportunity (for me) here,” Vonleh said. “Great coaching staff. Great teammates. Coach Fizz believes in some of the things I can do. He lets me go out there and just play, play through mistake and show what I can do as a player.”

Vonleh represents the future of the NBA: he is a long, athletic big who can stretch the floor, push the ball up the court and switch off on guards in the pick-and-roll –  as evidenced by Coach Fizdale’s initial takeaways of him

“(I told him) If you rebound the ball, you’ve got to push it. I don’t want you outletting the ball.’ And his eyes lit up and I think from there he saw that I was going to have a lot of confidence in him to try some stuff. Now he’s shooting the 3, he’s posting. He does everything. I think I’ve said it before, he’s our most complete player.”

He is far from an All-Star, but Vonleh compliments Kristaps Porzingis on the Knicks’ front line. He gives the Knicks a second big who can shoot and who boasts a wingspan greater than 7’4”. That makes for an excellent rebounding and shot blocking front court. And even if he ends up coming off the bench in favor of Kevin Knox or whomever they sign in free agency this season, versatility is a premium in the NBA, and Vonleh is nothing if not versatile. The only question remaining is if the Knicks gamble to sign him to a one-year deal will pay off beyond this season.

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Furkan Korkmaz Turning NBA Adjustments Into Opportunities

During his stay in the NBA, Furkan Korkmaz has taken the ups with the downs. Jessica Camerato speaks with the Philadelphia 76ers’ Turkish wing about his pro experience.

Jessica Camerato

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Furkan Korkmaz stretched out his legs and eased into a chair just off to the side of the Sixers’ practice court. For the next 20 minutes, he talked about growing up in Turkey, moving to the United States to play in the NBA and even painted a visual of performing as Michael Jackson in high school (more on that later). The 21-year-old was comfortable and easygoing, like he had been settled in the league for years, when actually his career is just getting started.

Korkmaz’s first sport was soccer. At the age of nine, he was approached by a coach to join his school’s basketball team. He considered sticking with soccer, but his older sister encouraged the change. Six years later, Korkmaz went pro. At 18, he was drafted by the 76ers to play in the NBA.

The Sixers chose Korkmaz with the 26th pick in 2016. The 6-7 swingman played the next season in Europe, winning the Turkish Cup with Banvit and being named the Basketball Champions League Best Young Player, before completing a buyout with Anadolu Efes to come to Philadelphia in July of 2017.

Korkmaz hadn’t spent much time in the United States before then, only a handful of days during the pre-draft process. Being alone in a new country had been difficult for him. After those workouts, he returned to his hotel room and talked to himself in Turkish, giving himself a break from speaking in English all day.

This time, Korkmaz wasn’t alone when he moved to Philadelphia. Since his parents are retired, they were able to make the trip with him from Turkey while he got acclimated to his new home. Korkmaz still encountered adjustments, but he had a support system around him.

“The first two months were really hard to get used to the language, culture because you’re not moving from Turkey to Spain or Turkey to Italy or from Italy to Spain,” Korkmaz told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a totally different culture.”

Korkmaz was always curious and interested in gaining knowledge. He learned to speak English by being around his non-Turkish teammates and coaches while playing professionally in Europe. He started off with basic questions, like asking for salt at dinner, and watched English-language movies to expand his vocabulary.

Once Korkmaz moved to Philadelphia, he honed in on specific details. He took mental notes at a restaurant when the server suggested he pronounce “water” with a “d” sound instead of the phonetic interpretation of a hard “t.” He asked questions the first time he heard the word “turkey” used in reference to a Thanksgiving food.

“They explained it,” Korkmaz said, “And then I learned.”

During his rookie season, Korkmaz had to learn about a challenging aspect of the game: injuries. He suffered a Lisfranc injury in his left foot in mid-December while in the G-League. He did not play again for the Sixers until March 22.

“For me the worst situation was I couldn’t walk for two months,” Korkmaz said. “I was not able to go out of the home without help from someone. My parents were here all that time. They were helping me. Even when I tried to go in the shower, they were taking me. It was really bad.”

Korkmaz finished his rookie year averaging 1.6 points over 5.7 minutes in 14 NBA games. He bounced back in the offseason with a standout performance in international competition and by scoring 40 points in summer league. A healthy Korkmaz showed signs of the potential that had been sidetracked by the foot injury.

In the grand scheme of things, though, Korkmaz hadn’t been on the court very much for the Sixers when the late October deadline came up for his contract option. The team declined it. Korkmaz, who was averaging five minutes at the time, spoke out in the media about his role and opportunity. His goal was to be on the court.

“At the time I was telling to people, even like my agent, my parents, my sister, it doesn’t matter who, I was telling them I want to play this year,” Korkmaz said. “It was my goal. It was my second year … I knew that I wasn’t ready last year. I wasn’t ready. I knew that. I just worked hard, even when I got injured.

“But I feel like I improved a lot then, not as basketball, physically, as my body. I was saying to people, ‘I want to play,’ … I never got down mentally. I knew that my time will come, but I didn’t know when.”

How quickly situations can change. Korkmaz saw an increase in minutes when the Sixers traded for Jimmy Butler in November, changed their rotations and shortened the bench in the absence of Markelle Fultz (out with a shoulder inury). If he was going to make the most of this chance, Korkmaz knew he would have to be prepared at a moment’s notice to contribute offensively and continue to improve his defense.

“He works, man, and he stars in his role,” Butler said. “I think that’s really, really important for a young guy to know whenever your time’s called you’re going to have to be ready. I already know what’s going on in his head. I already know how confident [he is] and how he wants to help this team win. He’s doing that to the best of his ability.”

Korkmaz’s preparation is paying off. He has played 15 minutes-plus in 11 of his last 16 games, including more than 20 minutes in six of those contests. Korkmaz got his first career start Wednesday against the Nets in place of an injured Butler (groin). He netted 18 points, six assists, three rebounds and three steals over a career-high 35 minutes in the Sixers loss. The previous game, he scored 18 points (4-7 3PG), including 15 in the second half, and seven rebounds off the bench in a win over the Pistons.

“He’s not intimidated by NBA basketball. He’s not intimidated by the moment,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “He’s got a bounce. He has an inner belief. There is a swagger that he has when he is going to make a play. He may miss a lot of shots, he may make a lot of shots, but there really isn’t any sort of trepidation. There is not a back down in Furkan.”

No, Korkmaz does not shy away from the spotlight. His willingness to put on a show translates away from the game, too. Korkmaz garnered attention for competing in a dunk contest dressed up as Darth Vader from Star Wars. He had practice getting into character prior to that.

“When I was in high school before graduation I did a Michael Jackson dance, for real,” Korkmaz said. “It’s like a four-minute dance to ‘Smooth Criminal’ with all the jacket, even white tape here (points to his hand like Jackson’s signature glove), my hat … It was really cool.”

Throughout the season, Sixers players are tasked with putting together presentations on a topic of their choice to share at a team breakfast. Recently, Korkmaz spoke on his native Turkey. Brown described the PowerPoint as “amazingly professional and thoughtful and informative.” The depth and delivery of the content made an impression on coaches and players.

“He’s done an unbelievable job of just putting himself in social situations,” JJ Redick told Basketball Insiders. “The fact he was able to do that in English is just remarkable. A 30-minute presentation, not even his first language, about a month ago. You see him coming out of his shell both on and off the court. He’s a pleasure to have in our program.”

It has been just over a year since Korkmaz made his NBA debut. Since then, he has gone through injuries and uncertainties all while building relationships, having the support of his family (his sister traveled to Philadelphia this season, too) and earning minutes in the Sixers system.

Korkmaz is taking the ups with the downs to stay in the NBA.

“This is the league which is the best league in the world,” Korkmaz said. “I want to show the people, yes I can play in the best basketball league in the world. I feel like still people don’t know what I can do here. That’s why I want to show the people, I can play here.”

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