The NBA’s return in Orlando will show how much trust Brett Brown has vested in the Philadelphia 76ers’ youth.
Earlier this season, a surprising development struck the Philadelphia 76ers rotation. Brett Brown, known for his stubbornness as a head coach, pivoted away from the Sixers’ veterans in favor of younger wings in the second unit. It was the rise of Matisse Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz.
Rather than sit idle and allow James Ennis to occupy a similar role to last season, Brown actively changed the rotation to prioritize his younger pieces. Thybulle and Korkmaz essentially became 1A and 1B in the second unit.
For much of his (very brief) competitive career, Brown has been reluctant to lean on young talent — outside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, of course. He has preferred to lean on veterans who know the league, who aren’t rattled late in games, and who more often than not, understand his system.
This season was a change, partially because Brown has shown a greater willingness to adapt, and partially because Thybulle and Korkmaz vastly exceeded expectations. The first couple months of the season, Thybulle and Korkmaz were simply too good to ignore.
Now, as the NBA season nears its return in late July, Brown’s trust in his young wings will be tested once more. Philadelphia is currently sixth in the East, but has a real chance to move up as high as fourth. Once the postseason begins, Brown — likely accounting for Al Horford’s move back to the second unit — will need to cement his rotational choices.
The Sixers added Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III at the trade deadline, two older wings who have more well-rounded skill sets than Thybulle and Korkmaz. In addition, Shake Milton has gone from “young and unknown” to “must-start,” and therefore has removed himself from this conversation.
At their peak, both Thybulle and Korkmaz bring unrivaled value to the second unit. Thybulle is one of the rangiest defenders in basketball as a rookie, and to some he’s already on the shortlist for All-Defense honors. Korkmaz is the purest shooter in the second unit. The Sixers, naturally, need shooters.
The issues for both Thybulle and Korkmaz arise when one glances past the sheen of their primary skills. When you look past Thybulle’s ability to generate turnovers and playmake on defense, he’s somewhat unsteady as an on-ball defender — which becomes more important in the postseason. He’s also a virtual zero on offense.
As for Korkmaz, once you look past his long-range bombs, it’s not difficult to find flaws. He struggles to finish at the rim, he’s the worst defender on the roster, and even his hottest nights are often rivaled by cold spells.
In short, when at their best, it’s difficult to deny Thybulle and Korkmaz. The problem is — and this is largely due to the aforementioned topic of youth — both players struggle to put their best foot forward on a nightly basis. Neither Thybulle nor Korkmaz have been as strong the second half of the season, despite continued reliance from Brown.
The Sixers will need to decide how Thybulle’s offense and Korkmaz’s defense will translate to a postseason setting. Defenses will ignore Thybulle behind the three-point line, which the Sixers can ill-afford. If he doesn’t hit shots, he becomes more burden than benefit. For Korkmaz, he will become the prime target of every offensive action from the opponent. If he can’t hold his own, Philadelphia’s defense — despite strong personnel across the board — will falter.
This will come down to Thybulle and Korkmaz in the end. If both can put on their best performances, Brown should have no qualms about keeping them in significant roles. If the results are a bit dicier, however, Brown may have to switch loyalties back to the veterans of the roster.