Before the 2020-2021 NBA season officially started, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers had two reserve players he would single out for good reasons on a daily basis. Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz both had breakout seasons last year in their own ways, and Rivers initially liked what they put on display at training camp.
After a strong few weeks of practice, both Milton and Korkmaz earned key roles off the bench. Milton's strong play from last season carried over to his third year with the Sixers. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for Korkmaz.
Three games into the year, Korkmaz suffered a lower-body injury, which sidelined him for weeks. After missing 11 straight games, Korkmaz finally returned to the Sixers lineup, where Rivers patiently waited for his return with high expectations.
At this point, Korkmaz has appeared in 17 straight games for the Sixers since returning from his injury, but the veteran reserve is slowly beginning to lose the interest of his head coach. Heading into Sunday night's game against the Toronto Raptors, Korkmaz was averaging seven points while shooting 33-percent from beyond-the-arc following his early-season injury.
On Wednesday, Korkmaz saw the court for 15 minutes, which is below his average for the year. Then on Friday, he played just 11 minutes in the win over the Bulls. Considering he continued to struggle in limited time, Rivers almost went entirely in a different direction on Sunday against the Raptors as Korkmaz checked into the game for just over two minutes.
Instead of giving Korkmaz, who shot 0-for-2 in the second quarter, an opportunity to shoot through his woes on Sunday, Rivers decided to give those minutes up to the rookie sharpshooter, Isaiah Joe. In 12 minutes of action, Joe collected just three points on two shots, but his defense was impressive enough to stand out.
"He was absolutely fantastic," Rivers said in regards to Joe's performance against Toronto. "You know, this is not football; you have to be a basketball player, and you have to play both ways, offense and defense. I thought he did that tonight."
Lately, it's seemed as if Rivers was trending in a direction towards having Joe pick up Korkmaz's minutes for now, but he would never confirm it in the past. On Sunday, Rivers offered just as good a confirmation as you can get, though.
"Everyone earns their minutes, and it's always a fair competition," Rivers said on Sunday after the loss to the Raptors. "So, right now, we're going with Isaiah." Does that mean Korkmaz is down for the count? Not exactly. While Joe has shown more promise recently, Rivers isn't married to the idea of having him replace Korkmaz just yet. For the time being, though, Korkmaz will have to ride the pine
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter: @JGrasso_