With a fair amount of depth at the power forward position and a coach always willing to give playing time to whoever is playing well, it’s difficult to predict just who will hog the front court minutes next to Andrew Bogut on any given night for Milwaukee. And, fairly frequently early on this season, no one has stepped up to take the minutes with long stretches of solid play. As was the case Saturday night though, it becomes much easier to figure when the starter plays poorly and the reserve shines.
While his four teammates around him all took turns sharing the basketball and making shots, Ersan Ilyasova spent the first quarter struggling to find his footing or make much of an impact offensively. That would be the trend the rest of the evening for Ilyasova, while Drew Gooden made the most of his opportunities on the court. Gooden logged nine second quarter minutes to Ilyasova’s three and the minute distribution played out accordingly the rest of the evening. Gooden posted another strong game scoring 12 points (6-8 FG) and grabbing seven rebounds. While no one on the Bucks did much of a job keeping the Jazz off the offensive glass, Ilyasova didn’t give himself much of a chance to make an impact.
In theory, Ilyasova gives the Bucks an additional outside shooting option every time he steps on the court at a position that traditionally doesn’t feature on outside shooter. But things haven’t always gone to plan with Ilyasova this season. Despite finally getting his shooting percentage to the 40% marker coming into Friday night’s game, he was still hitting just 29.3% of his 3-point shots. Not exactly the number Milwaukee had in mind for him coming into the season. And his struggles were on display again Saturday night, as he missed both the 3-pointers he attempted.
Coach Scott Skiles spoke on Ilyasova’s struggles before the game.
“I think it’s conservative to say he should shoot 45 and 36 (percent) with all the open looks he gets. The thing that bothers Ers the most,” Skiles said, “is the other defender: When one of our guards comes off, say, a pick and pop with Ers and his defender goes with the guard and then the ball is swung back to him, when somebody else’s defender is either rotating to him or faking at him and feeling that rotation and making the easy play. Or knowing it’s a fake and calming down and taking one dribble in, that’s just the way the game is played and he’s still trying to figure those things out.”
The challenge continued Saturday night and will likely persist throughout the season. It’s not that Ilyasova isn’t going to do some very good things on the court for Milwaukee this season, it’s just that he won’t be doing it every night. And that’s the reality Milwaukee lives with and a big part of the reason why Gooden was acquired. Despite his salary, Gooden wasn’t brought in to be the only option at the four, he was brought in to complement Ilyasova and give Milwaukee 30 or so valuable minutes every night. He’s had his share of struggles this season too, and that’s made Ilyasova’s struggles all the worse.
But in time, if Gooden can continue to string together strong games and Ilyasova can figure things out enough to have three or four good games for every bad one, Milwaukee will be a much improved team at the four. Even if that’s often seemed unlikely early this season.