Journeyman Ersan Ilyasova returns to the Milwaukee Bucks on a 3 year, $21 million dollar contract. This new contract looks to fill up a key role left behind by Jabari Parker as Ilyasova will be playing valuable minutes behind Giannis Antetokounmpo at the power forward position. At 31 years old, Ersan is a seasoned veteran and the Bucks organization and fanbase are looking for him to be productive entering his 11th season in the NBA.
The 2017-18 season began in Atlanta for Ilyasova as he started 40 out of the 46 games for the Hawks. With the Hawks he averaged 10.9 points, 1.1 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 1.0 steals, and 0.4 blocks in an average of 25 minutes per game. The Hawks released Ilyasova in February 2018 only to be claimed off waivers by the Philadelphia 76ers. Ilyasova went on to average 10.8 points, 1.7 assists, 6.7 rebounds, 0.7 steals, and 0.4 blocks per game in 23 games for the 76ers. He started in only 3 of the 23 games played in Philly and retained a 24 minute rotational role coming primarily off the bench. Regardless of his role on the team and whether or not he started or played off the bench, Ilyasova showed a little bit of everything on both the Hawks and the 76ers and proved to be a valuable asset. This type of production, especially his bench production is most likely what prompted the Bucks organization to pursue Ilyasova in free agency.
Areas of Improvement:
An area in which Ilyasova might want to improve upon is his 3pt percentage. The league average for 3pt field goal percentage was 36.2% and Ilyasova shot just below the league average at 36.0%. As minimal of a difference as this stat is, the fact is that Coach Mike Budenholzer wants his players to shoot more three pointers. In this pre-season, the Bucks shot over 40 threes per game which was good for fourth behind the Rockets, Pistons, and Guangzhou Long-Lions. Percentage wise, the Bucks were fourth this pre-season with a 41% mark behind the Long-Lions, Jazz, and Blazers. The sample size might be small as the Bucks played only 4 pre-season games but the stats ring true to the narrative and the Bucks will need Ersan to be shooting at a high level from beyond the arc in order to maintain the new offensive philosophy employed by Coach Budenholzer.
Projected Role: Backup Power Forward
As aforementioned, Ersan’s role will be to play minutes behind Giannis. There is no substitute for the Greek Freak however, there is good notion that while Antetokounmpo rests, the Bucks will still get solid production from the four spot on both sides of the floor. Ilyasova was ranked 24th out of 92 eligible power forwards in Real Plus-Minus with 0.92 and had a positive net rating in both Offensive Real Plus-Minus as well as Defensive Real Plus-Minus. Overall, if he can carve out a role as the backup power forward and occasionally as backup small forward or center, Ilyasova will have served his purpose this year as the definitive backup to Giannis.
Projected Key Stat//X-Factor: Minutes Per Game
Ilyasova will mean the most to the Bucks in the amount of minutes he is on the floor. As odd as this sounds, the Bucks will want to limit Antetokounmpo’s time on the court. Giannis registered over 40 minutes of playing time in 17 of the 75 regular season games in which he played. Last year was the 1st year in 4 years in which he didn’t play at least 80 games. Giannis had suffered from right knee soreness in multiple points during the season. The injury kept him out of a game or two at a time and may have been prevented had Giannis had not been placed with an increased minutes load upon his shoulders. At 23 years old, the Bucks will want to make sure Giannis stays healthy as he is the cornerstone of this Bucks team and giving him periods of rest during the game will be beneficial to the Bucks success and to his longevity throughout the season. Ersan is primed to fill that role and his minutes per game will be the key stat to look for and will ultimately make him the x-factor for Antetokounmpo’s health and a successful Bucks playoff run.