Ersan Ilyasova isn’t Tim Thomas so maybe everything isn’t awful

Some time tomorrow, Ersan Ilyasova will sign a fairly sizable contract with the Milwaukee Bucks. When he finishes putting his name down in cursive, he’ll be the third highest paid player on the Milwaukee Bucks.

This won’t be the first time the Bucks have given big money to a young reserve in hopes of better things down the road. Fortunately, the Bucks are almost certain to see more return on their investment this time.

But before I get into that – allow me to digress.

I spend a lot of time on Twitter reading what other basketball writers are writing about the team’s they love or cover. Around the same time Milwaukee was reportedly reaching a deal with Ilyasova, the New Orleans Hornets had reportedly done the same with Ryan Anderson, a strong rebounding, sweet shooting power forward not unlike Ilyasova. The market dictated that they’d get similar deals and it appears they’ve done so, each netting around $9 million annually, though Anderson might have one less year on his deal. We’ll figure that all out tomorrow.

But I mention Anderson because a few tweets from Eddy Rivera, a terrific writer and founder of the TrueHoop Network site, got me thinking about Ilyasova in a few different ways.

Sound like anyone you know?

Ilysaova is fairly Earth bound as NBA players go. He excels at tipping in offensive rebounds and creating extra possessions , but he isn’t much for creating his own shot or open looks for teammates. I’m not saying he’s a bad player, I’m just saying he has some limitations that it’s difficult to envision him moving past.

We often hear about how the 25-year-old Ilyasova is only now just entering his prime. Many of us have grown up playing video games and acquiring young players in franchise mode. We watched them get better. We assume that’s how things work. And many times, young players do take great steps forward. Ilyasova himself has already done this. He learned what was and what wasn’t a good shot last season. As Scott Skiles put it, he stopped “search for the 3-point line” and let things fall in line naturally for him. That’s the kind of thing a young player learns and adds to his game to improve.

But it is fair to wonder how much further along can Ilyasova move as a player?

One of the most exciting things that can happen to a team is the acquisition, via draft or trade, of a young, athletic player bursting with a talent that he hasn’t yet learned to control or refine. Those are the types of players we traditionally think of as high ceiling, big upside players. When those players are young and on your favorite team, it’s easy to be optimistic about how they’ll turn out. Ilyasova isn’t exactly one of these players. As I mentioned before, his physical limitations probably place a ceiling on just how much better he can get – he can probably be a good starter but he’ll never be a Star. You might cite someone like Dirk Nowitzki as a guy who got a lot better despite a lack of supreme athleticism, but he has a rare ability to make difficult shots that only a 7-foot player like him can even attempt, much less connect on. Turk Nowitzki does not equal Dirk Nowitzki.

So maybe Ersan doesn’t ever get much better than he was last season. Does that doom him to be another poor Bucks off-season mistake?

I feel pretty confident saying … not yes.

Almost 12 years ago, the Bucks threw $67 million at Tim Thomas to make sure  he didn’t end up a Chicago Bull haunting them for many years to come. He was everything Ersan isn’t. He could create his own shot. He could beat people with his athleticism. He was brimming with potential, enough that the Bucks were prepared to jettison a former first overall pick that had helped reshape the franchise to make room for him. He was everything.

And then he was nothing. To be fair, he wasn’t nothing – he was a guy who wore two headbands and played average basketball.

Two headbands Tim? Two? You crack me up.

He never found the proper motivation to produce on a consistent basis as well as he did in the playoffs. Make no mistake – Tim Thomas was a Bad Dude in the playoffs. But he was just a bad dude in the regular season, talent be damned.

But it’s hard to envision Ilyasova could ever have a career like Thomas. It’s hard not to envy the effort Ilyasova gives on each possession. Guys who hustle and treat every possession with the utmost importance the way Ilysaova does usually end up producing something that far exceeds what guys like Thomas ever do.

I’m still fairly certain signing a guy like Ilyasova to a deal like the one he’ll sign tomorrow isn’t the greatest idea, but I’ve at least convinced myself this isn’t another Tim Thomas scenario. This isn’t the worst signing ever, but it isn’t the best signing ever. We’re in a familiar place Bucks fans – the middle. And I know I compared Ersan’s prospective deal to Dan Gadzuric’s the other day and in the long run, deals like this one and Gadzuric’s keep the Bucks firmly planted in the middle. But if you’re going to re-sign a guy, there’s at least some solace in re-signing guys who have discernible skills and match them with effort.

I used to have wait every game for Thomas to turn into the guy he was supposed to be. With Ersan, at least I can feel comfortable knowing he’s already that.

Jeremy Schmidt founded the Milwaukee Bucks blog Follow him on Twitter.

Categories: The Off Season

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  1. @jeremyschmidt
    I agree, Ersan’s ceiling is limited partly by his athletic ability, but he has always struck me as a “nervous” player, which provides both the upside and downside to this deal. As well as he played last year he was still very indecisive and herky jerky at times, although greatly improved  in this regard compared to previous seasons. He is terrible when his shots are being contested close to the basket, and like most European players does not go up strong or attack the basket unless the path is clear. Also, like you said most of his scoring opportunities are created by virtue of circumstance rather than his own shot-creating ability, which is ok most of the time but a top 3 guy on a good team should be able to create his own shot when called upon. 
    If by some miracle he becomes close  to as assertive and effective with the ball in his hands as he is going after boards then we may have a really good player on our hands. On the flip, if he loses confidence and regresses to his indecisive 2010-11 form then its just another bad move by Bucks mgmt.  Overall I think he has just enough athletic ability, but his offensive composure and finishing skills are the limiting factors in him becoming a solid player.

    •  @sillybilly  @jeremyschmidt  It would be great to see Ersan develop a 10-14 footer on the baseline.  We usually see him at the elbow or extended elbow for 3’s.  If he can get to a baseline spot with regularity, Monta and Brandon should get a little extra room when they attack.  It’s not as sexy, but it could go a long way to making a weak-side or rotating defender keep his hips outside of the paint. 

      • @Mooky @sillybilly @jeremyschmidt would love to see Brando and the Ersanator pick and pop teams to death.. then switch to the roll when Henso enters

  2. According to, ersan, jennings and monta were 9th best big three last year. 

  3. regardless of the signing I cannot wait for the season to start. I even considered ordering the summer league for $15.00.

  4. Off subject but John Henson says he doesn’t have a nickname so I have three ideas:
    the Eclipse
    the Daily Show

  5. With Ilyasova for sure coming back, does this (hopefully) mean that Gooden is on the way out? As I stated in the other post about the Ilyasova signing, that leaves us with:
    Mbah a Moute
    At power forward. I have to believe that there will be a move made to get rid of at least one or two of these guys. Henson will be kept solely because he’s our new first round pick, and Mbah a Moute won’t be moved. So that leaves Sanders, Udoh and Gooden. Udoh is the most sought after of the three from what I’ve heard. 
    I’ve also heard that the Bucks are looking at signing Ian Mahinmi for backup center, so if that were to go through, Sanders is more expendable.

    •  @KBela53 I’m a Drew Gooden fan, but i think it makes the most sense to try a get a backup guard in return for him. 

      •  @ThisIsntUnicef  the problem as I see it is that we would still trading bad money for bad money.. I was on ESPN Trade Machine and saw that we could have Darko, but would have to probably take back someone like Wesley Johnson

      •  @JustinNixon Hence the “more” expendable. Because unless we sign Mahinmi, we won’t have a true backup center regardless. Udoh and Sanders are the only players who have any sort of shot at playing backup center, and I thought Sanders was better at center last year than Udoh. 
        I just put in the part about him being expendable because of our overcrowding at the power forward position.

        •  @KBela53 sorry.. what I meant is he has a $3 million option after next year.. I do not believe he will be retained.. he is not progressing at a good enough rate

        • PattiRafalskiDavison

           @JustinNixon  @KBela53 Sanders & Udoh got caught up in the lock out last year and so it’s difficult to assess their progress when they did not have the opportunity to play in summer league nor get the coaching and practice that a normal season would have provided to them.  This year will be telling, but these guys deserve a chance.

  6. On the birghtside, at least we aren’t paying Blake Griffin 19M to dunk and miss free throws

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  8. I hope Skiles gives Ersan some consistent playing time this year….We saw that when is playing time is consistent he is typically a 13 and 9 guy.  I expect is rebounding numbers to come down with the addition of Samuel D. but hopefully his scoring improves from last season.  As long as Skiles gives him consistent playing time…I expect Ersan to produce.