This is the fifth in a 15-part series running Wednesdays and Fridays profiling each Milwaukee Bucks player leading up to the start of the NBA season.
Ersan Ilyasova became the player the Milwaukee Bucks invested heavily in as soon as he stopped looking over his shoulder last season.
No player benefitted more from the coaching change last season than Ilyasova, as the Turkish forward didn’t see eye to eye with Scott Skiles but thrived under Jim Boylan. Signed to a five-year, $40 million contract extension after a breakout 2011-12 campaign, Ilyasova did not handle a bench role well under Skiles and struggled mightily.
Boylan’s first move as coach was to insert Ilyasova into the starting lineup and the stretch power forward ended his season averaging a career-high 13.2 points per game. With Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis gone, Ilyasova will be one of the players expected to help pick up the scoring load.
Believe it or not, Ilyasova has been with the Bucks longer than anyone else on the roster, first joining the team for 2006-07 season before coming back to Milwaukee in 2009.
2012-13 stats: 13.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.6 APG, 46.2 FG %, 44.4 3-point FG %, 79.6 FT % in 73 games
2013-14 salary: $7,900,000
Last year: Ilyasova averaged career highs at 13.0 points and 8.8 rebounds in 2011-12, but was at 6.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game in late November. Constantly looking over his shoulder to see if Skiles would pull him from the game, Ilyasova’s shooting numbers were abysmal — 31.3 percent from the floor and 25.0 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
Skiles eventually pulled him from the starting lineup and sometimes played Ilyasova sparingly. Things changed when Skiles parted way with the team and Boylan took over. Ilyasova knew he was going to play even if he missed a couple of shots.
With the fear of being pulled after misses gone from his mind, Ilyasova stopped hesitating and went from not being able to hit a shot at the beginning of the season to finishing fourth in the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage at 44.4 percent. There were points of the season last year in which Ilyasova dominated. He averaged 25.5 points, 12.3 rebounds while hitting 63.2 percent of his 3-pointers from Jan. 19-26.
While playing tentative under Skiles, Ilyasova wasn’t getting rebounds or getting easy points on tip-ins. Hustle rebounds and put backs are an important part of Ilyasova’s game and it came back as soon as his confidence returned. All in all, he had a successful season and is an important piece of the franchise moving forward.
This year: That being said, Ilyasova is in an interesting spot. John Henson, a player the Bucks have floated around as one of the team’s building blocks, plays the same position and has proved worthy of increased playing time.
Henson is talented and will likely eventually play his way into the starting lineup. That could come this season or down the road, but the Bucks will need to figure something out with Ilyasova. New coach Larry Drew could start Ilyasova and bring Henson off the bench or start Henson and bring Ilyasova off the bench.
Ilyasova didn’t deal with a bench role well at the beginning of the season, making it likely he will be the team’s starting power forward on opening night. A shift to — or at least increased minutes — at small forward is an option for Ilyasova, but he struggles to guard the quicker players at the position. Stronger power forwards are also not a good defensive matchup for Ilyasova, meaning he could lose minutes to a stronger player like Zaza Pachulia or even Miroslav Raduljica at times.
That being said, Ilyasova is very good at what he does as a stretch forward. He’s a matchup nightmare for teams himself and has established himself as one of the better shooters in basketball. Ilyasova is a very important part of this year’s Bucks and should be one of the team’s leading scorers.
From the front office: “I keep on talking about that crusty old veteran we have in Ersan Ilyasova that just turned 26 a couple of months ago. He’s one of the best stretch fours in the league.” Bucks general manager John Hammond on Ilyasova being overlooked with the team’s other young pieces.