This is not a big thing. This is not a matter of massive importance. This isn’t about Nerlens Noel’s development (really good so far) or what Joel Embiid may or may not become (still very much unknown). This isn’t about cap space or draft picks or asset acquisition or anything that will really swing the Sixers’ future fortunes. This is more of a minor mystery.
What, if anything, do the Sixers have in Furkan Aldemir? And why haven’t they tried harder to figure it out?
It is, admittedly, a provincial, hardcore hoopshead curiosity. But the questions remain. The Sixers landed Aldemir’s rights in a 2013 trade with the Rockets. Royce White was also in that deal. Like so many players before and after him, White was momentarily added as the price of doing business. The Sixers paid his $1.7 million salary, then cut him. It was the cost of acquiring Aldemir.
Aldemir played in Turkey at the time. He was still overseas when this season began. Then Aldemir wiggled out of his contract and agreed to a new deal that allowed him to join the Sixers. The front office always seemed pretty excited about the now-23-year-old forward. Maybe Sam Hinkie and his lieutenants are still jazzed, though that position would require faith of things unseen.
Aldemir has not played well and he has not played much. That first part might be linked to that last part. It’s hard to tell. Here’s what’s indisputable: Aldemir averages about 10 minutes per game. That’s basically what JaVale McGee got when he was here. Chris Johnson got more run. So did Brandon Davies. So did Malcolm Thomas. Thomas Robinson currently plays more.
Look at Aldemir's recent game log: Nine minutes against Detroit. DNP-CD at Boston and home versus Brooklyn. Six minutes against Sacramento. Nine minutes against Chicago. What’s the Turkish word for ghost? (It’s hayalet. Thanks, Google translate.)
“I ask myself this all the time: ‘If the season ended today, what would you regret?’” Brett Brown said recently. “And if that were true, probably one of my main regrets would be not playing him enough. He is learning. But there’s nothing like playing to learn. And I have to start giving him some minutes and finding a way to get him on an NBA court.”
Brown gets attached to his guys. He wants them to perform and he wants them all to play, but both of those propositions can be difficult in the NBA. For most teams. For the Sixers, who have regularly turned over their roster, finding playing time ought to be a bit easier.
Noel averages just over 30 minutes per game. That’s not going to change, or at least it won’t change because of Aldemir. Henry Sims averages just shy of 20 minutes per game, but his playing time is unpredictable. Thomas Robinson is playing over 17 minutes per game, and there is a host of guards and wings that also eat up minutes for a team that simply isn’t very good. What has to happen for the Sixers to shift minutes around and give Aldemir a longer look? What does Aldemir need to show in order for Brown to feel comfortable playing him?
“Really, nothing,” Brown said. “I just feel like I want to play him. It’s not like I say ‘oh, you’ve got to work on your jumpshot, you’ve got to work on your rebounding.’ You’ve just got to play. He’s got to get on an NBA court. He does everything, and some, to earn the right to play. For me, it’s a logjam, especially lately, where it just hasn’t made itself available. There probably will be games where we go to one of our bigs and I say ‘listen, I’m just not going to play you tonight. And, Furkan, you’ve got to come in.’ That conversation, I believe, is going to be had as this season winds down.”
Brown said Aldemir has “unique skills in his rebounding and screen-setting.” If you’ve watched Aldemir, you might find that evaluation generous. Brown is often kind that way. Aldemir has been, charitably, unspectacular. He’s grabbed just shy of four rebounds per game, which is fine for the limited playing time. But he doesn’t score (1.4 ppg) or block shots (0.4 bpg) or get into passing lanes (0.4 spg). He just kind of lumbers up and down the floor. Now and then he hauls in a missed shot. That’s about it. You tend not to notice him until he fumbles a pass or dribbles a ball off his leg.
If he can’t play for this team, a team that is openly rebuilding, then what future, if any, could he possibly have in the NBA?
“We want to see Furkan,” Brown said. “He’s earned the right to play. He has unique skills in his rebounding and his screen-setting especially. We want to see what we’ve got.”
Or maybe he isn’t playing because they’ve already seen enough.