Ersan Ilyasova is not playing like a man confident in his own basketball abilities.
In many circumstances, he’s still shooting the ball, because he’s often finding himself wide open and it’s his job to shoot the ball. But on many of those shots, he’s shooting the ball like a guy who knows he’s supposed to shoot the ball, not like a guy who wants to be shooting the ball. For a player who made 45% of his 3-pointers last year and almost 50% of his shots overall, that’s pretty strange.
“He’s got a lot of movement going on right now,” Scott Skiles said after Saturday’s loss. “Sometimes Ers is, not because he’s not coachable, he’s very coachable, but sometimes the best thing to do is leave him alone and let him work himself out of it. He gets in his head a little bit. But he’s shooting the ball and his feet are moving and he’s drifting all over the place, things like that. He’s just not real solid with it right now. He just has to make sure it doesn’t affect other parts of his game. They’ll go in for him.”
The apparent mental anguish Ilyasova’s misses have thrust upon him were evident than in the fourth quarter Saturday.
Milwaukee trailed 91-88 with 38 seconds to play when Ilyasova stood alone under Milwaukee’s basket. He grabbed a rebound and passed to Monta Ellis, initiating a crucial Bucks offensive possession. Ilyasova was the last man up the floor as received a pick from Larry Sanders and started dribbling towards the center of the court. Ellis saw a very open Ilyasova plant himself on the right wing, just outside of the 3-point line. From this area on the floor last season, Ilyasova shot 40% (14-for-35). From this area on Saturday night, with the Bucks down three, Ilyasova had zero percent interest in attempting a shot.
He quickly pump-faked, despite the lack of a defender. His initial pump-fake gave Kevin Garnett time to rotate over. When Garnett arrived, Ilyasova pump-faked again, drawing a raised hand from Garnett and nothing more. Ilyasova then swung the ball to Brandon Jennings who drove and dished into the hands of Marquis Daniels outside the 3-point line. Knowing that wasn’t his shot, Daniels calmly took a dribble in and connected on an 18-foot jumper.
Daniels knew his limitation, but he was also confident that he could make a mid-range jumper. Ilyasova appeared confident that no matter what shot he took there, it wasn’t going in.
It’s been a rough early season for Ilyasova. After Saturday’s game, the question that led to Skiles quote above was prefaced with, “Ilyasova is struggling a little bit with his shot …” at that point, Skiles interrupted with incredulous laughter and said, “A little bit?!”
After a 3-for-12 effort against the Celtics, Ilyasova is now shooting 29.8% (14-for-47) from the field, 29.4% (5-for-17) from three and 41.7% (5-for-12) from the line on the season. Always known as a player who can put too much pressure on himself and think too much during games, Ilyasvoa very well could be pressing after signing a 5-year, $40 million contract over the summer. Numbers that bad can only expected to go up. There’s virtually no chance Ilyasova continues to shoot less than 30% from the field and 50% from the line. But Skiles point about not letting his shooting issues affect the rest of his game is important.
Always a strong rebounder, Ilyasova is grabbing just over one offensive rebound per game after grabbing better than three every night last season. His current rebound rate of 12% would be his lowest percentage since he was a 19-year-old rookie and he’s become something of a ghost on defense. He has just one steal, one block and only two charges drawn. These are the most concerning numbers for Ilyasova, historically a scrappy, big time effort player.
Ilyasova said before the season we would never see his energy level dip, regardless of the contract he was under, but we may be seeing a bit of the opposite right now. Until Ilyasova settles down and stops trying to prove he’s the player the Bucks loved last season, we might be stuck seeing a lot of the player he was before last season.