Trio Making Quality Cases for Rising Stars Challenge
Thanks to Joel Embiid (and hopefully a couple more deserving teammates who are currently in the running to join him), the 76ers seem poised to reclaim a consistent presence at the NBA All-Star Game.
But even though it’s been about a decade and a half since the team last had a player appear at the event on a regular basis (Allen Iverson, of course), the franchise has still been well-represented on All-Star Weekend in recent years, via the Rising Stars Challenge.
In each of Brett Brown’s six seasons as head coach, there’s been at least one Sixer chosen for the exhibition, in which the league’s top first and second-year players square off in a Team USA vs Team World format.
The past five years, multiple Sixers have been picked, and three times, three members of the club were nominated (Michael Carter-Williams, Robert Covington, and Nerlens Noel in 2015; Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, and Dario Saric in 2017; and Embiid, Saric, and Ben Simmons in 2018).
This winter, between Ben Simmons (obviously), Landry Shamet, Jonah Bolden, and Furkan Korkmaz, the odds are again high that the Sixers will have a good foothold in the Rising Stars Challenge, set for Friday, February 15th at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.
By this point, you probably know the book on Simmons, who’s certainly worthy of a spot in the actual All-Star Game itself as a reserve.
Instead, in this space, we’ll spend some time here looking at the Sixers’ other Rising Star candidates.
First-round prospects, regardless of where they’re chosen 1 through 30, face a certain degree of expectations. Landry Shamet has taken a sledgehammer to whatever his presumed glass ceiling was entering season, seizing a key role in the rotation of a team picked to contend for the Eastern Conference title.
Would the Sixers, owners of the fourth-best record in the East, be where they are now without the Wichita State product’s contributions?
“You put a gun to my head, I bet not,” Brett Brown said. “He’s been way better than I thought. I do think we would not be entirely in the place had he not jumped into the league as quickly as he did.”
Averaging 8.4 points (44.3 fg%) in 20.1 minutes per game, Shamet has emerged as one of the top performers from this year’s draft class. The no. 26 pick ranks second among first-year players with 91 3-pointers, and leads his rookie peers with a 40.3 3-point shooting percentage (as of Jan. 26).
A Kansas City native, Shamet is also on-pace to become the third rookie in franchise history to surpass the century mark for 3-pointers in a season. Then, there’s the matter of him having a legit shot to break the team’s rookie triple record held by Allen Iverson (155).
“I say it all the time, he is a grown-up, he’s not your typical rookie,” said JJ Redick, the veteran sharpshooter who has taken Shamet under his wing. “He’s got a man’s demeanor, a man’s poise.
“It’s fun to see a guy who’s 21 years old and is already, basically a pro. He acts like a pro, he plays like a pro.”
While Shamet has made numerous clutch plays during his impressive season, none of his showings has been as memorable as his 29-point outburst in a January 8th victory over the Washington Wizards. His eight triples set a new mark for Sixer rookies.
The total was one shy of matching the NBA’s single-game rookie record.
“It feels good, obviously, anytime you can contribute,” Shamet said recently. “I just try to stay ready, listen to coaches, and be ready to do my job whatever that may be.”
So far, it’s been a job exceedingly well done.
Why block James Harden once, when you can stuff him three times in a night?
Bolden blocks Simmons scores pic.twitter.com/TMhDck28Lm
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) January 22, 2019
Jonah Bolden’s multiple rejections of the 2018 MVP in the Sixers’ January 21st blowout win over the Houston Rockets was indeed one of the highlights of his first NBA season.
Ever since he was moved into the rotation on a full-time basis after Christmas, the Australian big man has been solid, averaging 5.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.0 block in 16.1 minutes over his last 14 games.
Even more telling has been how Bolden has graded out in respect to some key advanced metrics. Again, with this post-Christmas stretch serving as a demarcation point, Bolden (as of Jan. 26) ranked fifth among rookies in defensive rating (105.2), fourth in rebounding percentage (14.0), and third in both effective field goal percentage (64.5) and true shooting percentage (63.1).
He has indeed been making efficient use of his playing time.
“He’s always shown a bounce,” Brett Brown said of Bolden, chosen 36th overall in the 2017 draft. “I think that he’s improving in realistic defense. He’s not making up his own stuff. He’s taking his energy and channeling it into a more sophisticated team set of rules and disciplines that we have in place. He’s paying attention to scouting reports and personnel better. I just think he’s growing from that capacity. It’s just polishing up his athletic gifts.”
With his minutes per game nearly tripling in his second NBA season, Furkan Korkmaz has shown signs of progress. He’s averaging 6.0 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in 14.9 minutes per game.
In particular, the 2017 no. 26 selection has been more effective with his perimeter shot this year, nailing 43 3-pointers (as of Jan. 26), good for fifth-most on the Sixers.
“I think offensively, no question, he’s a great player,” Brett Brown said earlier in the season. “He knocks down shots, plays the right way, the European style of play. Defensively, he’s gotten a lot better, communication, strength-wise, holding his own on defenders and just reading plays.”
Korkmaz has reached double-figures 11 times this year. The 21-year old Turk posted a pair of career-high 18-point efforts in back-to-back games against Detroit and Brooklyn on December 10th and 12th, respectively.