Dec. 06, 2016
Ersan Ilyasova Is The Best Player You've Never Heard Of
?First of all, I have to say that I wasn't thrilled about the Sixers bringing in Ilyasova for Jerami Grant. Don't get me wrong, Ersan has been one of my favorite players in the entire league ever since he came back over to the Bucks in 2009. I wasn't so sure the Sixers were getting that player though, as years of playing with ballhogs and being misused had turned him into a "hustle" player and knockdown shooting role player.
After I had a bit to digest the trade, I realized Ersan could give the Sixers some of exactly what Dario Saric would eventually do for the team and would be the perfect mentor for the promising young Croatian, and that first round pick certainly helped the medicine go down.
As we've seen more and more this year, Ersan is starting to find himself again as one of the best international players in the game, and more and more has looked like the Ilyasova of 2009-2011. Who is that player, you ask? Allow me to introduce you to a guy who at one point looked like he could be the next great international player.
Ersan Ilyasova was drafted 36th overall in 2005 at age 18 by the Milwaukee Bucks. As you can see in these videos of Ersan in the 2006 U-20 games, he was still a work in progress as a player but he had major potential and that "it" quality on the inside that great players have. He just had a tremendous feel for the game and would keep making plays to impact a game over and over. A lot of people in Philadelphia probably want to compare him to impressive rookie Dario Saric but in reality Ersan was much more like a young Pau Gasol or at least a player who clearly could grow into that. That might sound like blasphemy but Gasol was far from perfect when he was younger. The difference is he went to a situation where he was developed as the Grizzlies' franchise player while Ilyasova went to one where after impressing more and more his first two seasons, his growth was completely stagnated by playing with ballhogs and being misused and played like an afterthought. I'm not saying Ilyasova would've been Pau but he could've been damn close had he been given the same shot Pau was given.
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He would spend two years in antlers but it was clear that he needed to find somewhere to develop and get major minutes, so the then-20 year old signed with European powerhouse FC Barcelona, where he would spend the next two years and win the Euroleague in his last season. Unfortunately there's no real footage of Ilyasova from his Euroleague days for the most part but this video of his Game 5 performance that sent Barcelona to the Final Four and put away hated rival Real Madrid shows the kind of player Ersan had developed into already.
When Ersan came over to the Bucks again in 2009, it was no secret that they were getting one of the best young international players at any level and a guy who could make an impact right away. Ilyasova did not disappoint, as it became clear as the season went on that he was the most important player on a post-Michael Redd Bucks team that featured a young, talented core of franchise Center Andrew Bogut, versatile big man Larry Sanders, scoring machine point guard Brandon Jennings, and do- it-all glue guy Luc-Richard Mbah a Moute.
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The 2010-2011 season is really when Ersan started breaking out though, and he was poised for a coming out party in 2011-12. As you can see by this video of Ersan's career as a Buck up to 2011, he looked like he could potentially one day be a less athletic Andre Kirilenko. It was clear that Milwaukee had an absolute steal on their hands.
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Then the Bucks traded for Monta Ellis, and after a year of playing with that ballhog, Ersan was never the same player anymore. His growth was completely stunted, and he went from being a primary offensive player who had the ball in his hands often and got to play his game to one who often had to bail out his sloppy team thanks to guys like Monta. This might have been a breakout year statistically but it became obvious as the season went on that Ilyasova was fading away and transitioning to being an afterthought on a team full of ballhogs -and his stats the next season would reflect this.
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Over the next few years, Ilyasova would at times look like the player he used to be but never consistently thanks to really never playing with a true point guard who ran the offense efficiently. By the time he got to the Thunder, Ersan was really an afterthought around the league and a guy who would bail teammates out, make hustle plays, and take charges.
Then Ilyasova was traded to Philadelphia, and from his first game he showed flashes of the player he used to be, bit by bit. Watching tape from his first game as a Sixer, you can see that Ersan's jumper is still a bit off and he really isn't playing with the confidence and deliberateness one would expect of a primary offensive player.
However, first against the Pacers but especially against the Grizzlies, Cavs, and Magic, we have started to really see the old Ilyasova bit by bit, the guy who at one point looked like he could be the Bucks' franchise player. Anybody who really understands the game of basketball enough to see the difference between a legitimate primary offensive player and a role player who provides secondary offense can see the change in Ersan as the season has progressed so far. Probably the two biggest indicators are the fact that his jumper and touch in general has almost consistently been literally perfect, and he's been driving with purpose again and moving with the ball completely under control and playing deliberately on both ends.
First we take a look at Ilyasova's first game against the Cavs.
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As you can see above, though he was clearly improving and getting more comfortable, Ersan's jumper was still not quite perfect yet and he was still playing much more like a secondary offensive player than being under control as we saw against first the Grizzlies and increasingly in pretty much every other game since. However, you can see Ersan consistently doing the things he used to do years ago in Milwaukee and beginning to play much more deliberately on cuts and with the ball in his hands.
Next we take a look at Ilyasova's big game against the Pacers.
This was the game where we really started seeing more of the old Ersan as he was beginning to play under control and establish himself offensively. His jumper was also starting to look a lot better every single time the ball left his hands.
Lastly, we take a look at Ilyasova's huge game against the Grizzlies.
The very first thing we notice here is that Ersan is playing completely in control on offense to the point where even on a put-back he is fully under control rather than just trying to play volleyball and tip the ball. This is an unbelievably difficult shot, and Ersan makes it look so easy you'd think it was a designed play. The next thing you notice is on every single shot and even layup, Ersan's touch is so perfect that the net barely moves. This is a level of fingertip control that only legitimate primary offensive players are able to achieve. It's one of the things that sets Ersan apart from every other promising European player and especially did during his first few years in Milwaukee.
Now before we go any further, I have to caution that Ersan will probably never be quite the same player he was in his early twenties. He just doesn't have quite the same athleticism he used to , which is understandable at age 29. He's also been completely misused so the odds are very much against him ever fully becoming the player he could've been had he been handled right and developed as the legitimate star that he is.
However, the absolute least Ilyasova can give the Sixers is what Peja Stojakovic gave teams in his career or what Luis Scola gave the Rockets, and that is damn good let alone if he can fulfill his potential as that cross between Pau Gasol and a less athletic Andre Kirilenko. My money would be on Ersan being somewhere in between his ceiling and his floor, and that in and of itself is good enough to warrant a near-max contract somewhere next year.
Either way just know that when it comes to Ilyasova, you ain't seen nothing yet, Sixers fans.