Getting to Know Timothe Luwawu and Furkan Korkmaz
The selection of Ben Simmons with the 1st overall pick, a mere formality after a month of speculation, was the primary focus for Sixers fans after Thursday night’s NBA draft, and deservedly so. Simmons has the potential to develop into a franchise player, to make the Sixers truly relevant after a decade of being little more than an afterthought.
In addition to Simmons the Philadelphia 76ers added two more international prospects to their extended family, selecting French wing Timothe Luwawu with the 24th pick and Turkish shooting guard Furkan Korkmaz with the 26th selection in the draft.
The selections of Luwawu and Korkmaz were surprising for a number of reasons, not the least of which were because few, if any, analysts expected either to be available where the Sixers were drafting. It was also a surprise that president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo elected to keep both picks. After spending weeks talking about how difficult it would be to keep both picks and develop as many young guys as the Sixers currently have on their roster, Colangelo recognized two talented players were falling and adjusted his course, despite the fact that both players have a desire to come stateside and play in the NBA, according to sources.
“I can’t believe this guy fell” is something that general managers frequently state the day after the draft, but in this case it has some merit. Below is a graphic of where various major outlets had both Luwawu and Korkmaz falling in their most recent mock drafts.
Every outlet had Luwawu in the top-15 in their mock draft, and most, with the exception of DraftExpress, had Korkmaz going prior to either Sixers draft pick.
Even with DraftExpress, they had Korkmaz in the top-20 in every iteration of their mock draft from January 2015 through June 22nd, 2016, only dropping the Turkish wing on the day of the draft.
Both Luwawu and Korkmaz are tall, athletic, wings who can shoot from the perimeter, and while neither are expected to create a high amount of offense for their teammates they both show at least the capability of making quality decisions with the ball in their hands and the capacity to set up their teammates as secondary shot creators. That combination — size, athleticism, three-point shooting, secondary passing — is exactly what you want next to Ben Simmons.
It was interesting to listen to Colangelo talk about European prospects after the draft. While the possibility of drafting foreign players wasn’t talked about much (Luwawu and Korkmaz weren’t expected to fall, most of the rest in that range were big men), it does mirror Colangelo’s history with both the Phoenix Suns and the Toronto Raptors.
“As the game has evolved on a global basis, the game has been nurtured differently overseas. Players are generally taught fundamentals first, highlights second,” Colangelo said. “The way they train players over there is pretty much equal across the board. Guards are doing the same drills that the bigs are doing, and the bigs are doing the same drills as the guards are doing. So they come in, generally, not always, but generally with a well-rounded game.”
So the Sixers hit the trifecta with their two late draft picks in that they drafted for talent, positional need, and fit.
Timothe Luwawu, 6’7″ Small Forward, Mega Leks, 21 years old
Stats: 14.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists in 31 minutes per game, shot 39.8 percent from the field and 37.2 percent from three-point range in Adriatic League play.
Luwawu was a late bloomer, having played just under 20 minutes per game for Antibes in France’s Pro B second division in 2014-15, averaging just 7.1 points and 2.5 rebounds per game and shooting 28.7 percent from three-point range.
Despite not yet fully demonstrating his potential, we at DraftExpress had him in the first round of our mock draft at various points prior to his withdrawal from the 2015 draft based on his physical profile and long-term potential. At 6’7″, with plus lateral mobility and long arms, Luwawu has quite a bit of potential on the defensive side of the court.
He can also get up and down the court in a hurry, has a quick first step (although he slows down a bit because his ball handling isn’t yet advanced enough to take advantage of his athleticism), and can elevate around the hoop. The jump shot wasn’t yet there, and his skill development still required quite a bit of progress, but his shot didn’t appear to be broken, and the potential was obvious.
Then Luwawu joined Mega Leks in the Adriatic League, a team known for playing, and developing, young players with NBA potential. That’s a rarity of sorts in Europe, as most teams are intent on competing for the Euroleague championship, and spending resources developing young players who are obviously interested in heading to the NBA makes little sense for them. Young players, despite their talent, tend to not have a positive impact on winning at that stage of their career, and with players they know are going to head over to the NBA they don’t get the eventual reward to make the early-career growing pains worth it.
Mega is different, and you don’t have to look further than the 2016 draft as an example why, with teammates Ivica Zubac (drafted 32nd, 19 years old, played 22 minutes per game) and Rade Zagorac (drafted 35th, 20 years old, 29 minutes per game) both playing major roles for Mega this past year as well, despite their young age. In fact, only two players on Mega were over the age of 23 this year.
“Leadership there has been progressive in identifying and developing talent,” Bryan Colangelo told Philadelphia magazine after the draft. “The organization is one of several over there that have kind of become somewhat of a factory for future NBA players.”
“We were only young guys on the court. It was a lot of fast break, pressure, full court play,” Luwawu said about his situation. “That helped me to choose Mega. There’s a great coach over there. It’s a lot of great people around you. If you want to practice, you can practice. In Europe it’s not always like that. You can ask to go in the gym, but they can say no because it’s too expensive [to run the gym]. There weren’t those kind of issues [with Mega].”
That environment allowed Luwawu to thrive, and make more use of his physical talent. He went from playing just under 20 minutes per night with Antibes, averaging 7.1 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game, to 30 minutes per game with Mega, with averages of 14.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.8 assists. Perhaps the best indication of his development was his improvement as a three-point shooter, connecting on 37.2 percent of his 156 attempts during Adriatic League play.
That perimeter shot is obviously big for Luwawu, as three-and-d players are extremely important in the NBA, especially guys who have the kind of athleticism Luwawu does. His shot off the dribble is not yet nearly as advanced as his stationary set shot, in fact it’s pretty bad right now and something he’ll settle for with alarming frequency, but the latter is more important for the role he’s likely to fill in the NBA.
That doesn’t mean that Luwawu is anything approaching a finished product, and could certainly struggle during the early part of his career. His impact is still, mostly, theoretical at this stage. Despite plus defensive tools his awareness on that end of the court is spotty, at best, particularly off the ball. His decision making and shot selection in the half court limit his effectiveness offensively. His ball handling needs to improve, and his pull-up game can be wildly inefficient.
Despite his incredible athleticism, he struggles at times to finish around the basket more than you would expect. He can elevate around the rim, has good body control, and touch better than his 41.9 percent two-point field goal percentage would indicate, but he has to get stronger physically to finish around the basket consistently.
More important, however, is his decision making. His field goal percentage is more indicative of questionable shot selection than anything related to his skill, a problem which playing for the free-flowing Mega could have helped exacerbate. Hopefully, playing in a more structured system and being asked to do less will help him regain some of that efficiency immediately, then he can slowly increase his offensive responsibilities as his ball handling, shooting on the move, and decision making progress.
“I like to say I’m a complete player. Play defense, offense, put pressure on the ball, force turnovers, block shots, play the fast break and shoot three’s,” Luwawu said, while noting that his goal this offseason is to improve his ball handling and ability to shoot off the dribble. “I like to do everything on the court and be a complete player.”
Luwawu is an intriguing prospect because he doesn’t have to improve much more than his decision making and physical maturity to be a role player in the NBA. His size, athleticism, defensive potential, and improving three-point shot make it easy to slot him into a role if and when the game slows down for him.
What makes Luwawu an especially great selection at 24 is that he has the athleticism and potential down the line to create shots as well, while flashing some creative passes that suggest significant untapped potential.
Furkan Korkmaz, 6’8″ Shooting Guard, Anadolu Efes, 18 years old
Stats: 5.1 points, 1.4 rebounds, 0.7 assists in 13 minutes per game, shot 39 percent from three-point range in Turkish League play (42.3 percent in Euroleague)
Looking at Furkan Korkmaz’s stats, the thing that obviously jumps out is his three-point shooting. The youngest player on Anadolu Efes’ roster (by far. Korkmaz is 18, the only player under 20 years of age), Korkmaz’s 39.8 percent shooting on 103 three-point attempts between both Euroleague and Turkish League competition was very impressive.
That shot has been consistent over the years as well, connecting on 40.9 percent of the 181 three-point attempts over his brief, two-year Turkish + Euroleague career. In addition, he shot 38.6 percent from three-point in the various FIBA competitions since 2013 (Under-16, Under-18, Under-19, etc), including 45.2 percent (14-31) in his most recent FIBA competition in 2015.
When you factor in he’s still just 18 years of age (a time when most college players are just beginning their first college season), and the fact that the FIBA three-point line is farther back than the NCAA line, and he’s playing in a tough, professional league, there’s an argument to be made that Korkmaz could be the best shooter in this draft.
Korkmaz is a great catch and shoot player, who is does a great job in his pre-shot footwork and positioning, ready to catch the ball and go through his shooting motion right away. His shooting mechanics are short and compact, with an easily repeatable motion that ends with great elevation and follow through. He has a very natural shot that comes off his fingers cleanly, and he should be a legitimate catch-and-shoot threat from the moment he steps on an NBA court.
The rest of his game could take some time. He can shoot off the dribble, frequently using one or two dribbles to set up a pull-up jumper off a pick and roll, but he’s not quite as automatic as he is from the catch. He’s not at Luwawu’s level as an athlete, but he’s a good athlete for his size, and shows some ability to turn the corner and get into the lane.
Even more than Luwawu, however, Korkmaz is held back by his physical immaturity, with a rail-thin 185 pound frame that impacts his effectiveness on both ends of the court. He will simply struggle to finish inside against NBA defenders, while also struggling to navigate screens and picks defensively, until he adds significant bulk to his frame.
Korkmaz’s role with Efes was almost entirely as an off-the-ball, catch and shoot player. He’d occasionally attack an aggressive closeout and get into the paint, but Efes mostly wanted to limit the responsibilities of their youngest player. When Korkmaz has gone up against players his own age, he’s shown a little bit more off the dribble and as a passer than you’d expect. He recently averaged 16.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 2.7 steals per game in FIBA Europe’s 2015 U18 tournament, showcasing the ability to perhaps grow into more of a shot creator down the line. As I mentioned above, he does have a decent first step, is a fluid athlete, and has some elevation around the rim, so perhaps this skill he can grow as his body physically matures.
Korkmaz is a little bit further away than Luwawu, having just played his second season with Efes at only 18 years of age, and you can see that immaturity in his lack of strength. That underdeveloped frame, and the defensive struggles it will cause, could keep him from seeing minutes early on in his career. He also doesn’t project to have Luwawu’s defensive potential, as he’s not as quick laterally, or as long, to develop into the kind of defender Luwawu can become, even if Korkmaz does significantly bulk up.
Still, it might be even easier to project an NBA role for Korkmaz than it is for Luwawu, as he has the chance to develop into an elite catch-and-shoot player, and doesn’t force the issue like Luwawu does at times. He has a very easily projectable NBA role, and if his body fills out, he continues to improve his ball handling, and gets more comfortable shooting off the pick and roll, he could also develop into a secondary shot creator, especially with the aggressive closeouts he’s sure to receive because of his shooting.
One final note: Colangelo did ask Dario Saric, a teammate of Korkmaz’s with Efes, his opinion of Korkmaz before the draft.
“We did seek out an opinion [from Dario],” Colangelo said. “Is he a good teammate? Do you like him? Do you guys get along? You want to know everything. And that all came back positive.”
Will they play in the NBA next year?
I’ve been told that Luwawu’s buyout to get out of his contract with Mega and head to the NBA is around $650k, which is right in line with the $650k the NBA allows teams to contribute without it coming out of their rookie contract.
I talked to Luwawu the other day, and he said that he wants to come to the NBA right away, and even hopes to play in Summer League. He says he doesn’t see his buyout situation preventing that from happening.
Korkmaz is under contract with Anadolu Efes next season, and his contract also contains a buyout, which I’ve been told us around $2 million.
That would be unfeasible, as the Sixers are only able to contribute $650k towards a buyout and the first year contract for the 26th pick would only be ~$1.19 million. However, I’ve been told he could pay the $2 million buyout off in multiple installments, which could make Korkmaz coming to the NBA this year a possibility, and I’ve been told he does have interest in coming to the NBA this year as well. I have yet to receive clarification on exactly how many installments he can pay that buyout off over, and that could be key in whether he does in fact come over this year.
“I honestly think that it could go either way”, Colangelo said about Korkmaz coming over this year. “I think it’s been pretty clear on both of Timothe’s and Furkan’s part that they want to come. They want to play here next year.”
Do the Sixers want both to come over, however?
Prior to the draft Bryan Colangelo made statements about the difficulties in developing too many young players at once. With Dario Saric (hopefully), Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jahlil Okafor, and Nerlens Noel already on the roster, the thought that the Sixers could have selected at least one of Korkmaz or Luwawu (more likely Korkmaz) to try to convince them to stay overseas another year was a logical conclusion to reach.
Colangelo, however, said there could be benefits to bringing them both over now.
“You could make an argument that he’s [Korkmaz] better off staying one or two more seasons in Europe and developing, but we’re a young team,” Colangelo said. “There’s an argument, even here, to say one more young body [on the roster] is not a good thing, but I disagree to an extent.
“We have a lot of development coaches, we have a beautiful practice facility, we have a D-League operation,” Colangelo continued. “I think [Korkmaz] might actually be better off in a situation where he comes over sooner rather than later, because he can be exposed to different things and possibly develop.”
Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.