Forgive me if I do not weep for Ersan Ilyasova, the man who signed for $8 million this off-season and has seen his minutes decline by the game this season.
It seems a yearly tradition for Bucks fans to complain about the mysterious rotational decisions made by Scott Skiles, but I contest they aren’t as strange as they may seem.
He plays guys who are playing well or are clearly better than other players.
We’ll always see Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis in the lineup for roughly 35 minutes. That’s how things have gone throughout Jennings career and that’s the sort of credibility Ellis has earned (insane as that is) as an NBA player. Those guys are locks for big minutes unless something drastic happens.
Elsewhere, the Bucks are a pretty deep squad without much in the way of established stars. Tobias Harris seems like he’ll be good, but he has some huge defensive flaws that make it pretty easy for Skiles to give him the hook. Mike Dunleavy is fun to watch, but he has a serious injury history and is probably not a guy who can be productive for 35 minutes. All of the Bucks big men could be good or terrible on any given night – Larry Sanders has been the personification of that this season after his strong start and sudden lack of production.
Milwaukee has a lot of guys who are okay, but no stars.
That’s the sort of less than ideal depth that allows Skiles the freedom to play around with his rotations, which leads to everyone complaining about players not being able to get comfortable, which is the exact sort of complaint fans of an average team are going to always have.
People get very excited about a team with some depth, as we heard all summer.
“They are so deep! So many options when your number 12 guy is as good as your number four guy!”
And yeah, maybe that means this team has a little depth. You know what else it means? That the number four guy isn’t very good. It doesn’t mean he’s bad, but it certainly means he’s replaceable. Replaceable players are one thing the Bucks are flush with right now. It doesn’t matter how comfortable replaceable players get when a team t hat’s playing as well as the Knicks comes into town. Or when the Heat turn it on. Or when the Bulls lock down. More often than not, the team that’s more talented or that executes better is going to win. Heat and Knicks? More talent. Bulls? Professional executors, that one fourth quarter notwithstanding.
Unfortunately for the Bucks, a team without any star players, unreliability is the one thing we can expect from some of their most important players.
One of those important players is Ilyasova, arguably the most fragile and inconsistent Bucks player in quite some time. Cries have been floating across the cold Milwaukee night sky for the Turkish power forward’s minutes to increase despite his excruciating early season struggles. I can only ask, “Why?”
Why bother giving Ilyasova more minutes?
People say he needs more minutes because he has to work himself out of his funk. So it’s Skiles job to hold the hand of a player that was deemed worth $8 million per season to make sure he starts playing better? When did the NBA become elementary school?
Because he was foolishly extended over the off-season doesn’t mean he needs to be playing now. Two mistakes are worse than one.
And what does his extension mean to a coach whose job depends on a playoff birth? The same depth that had everyone so excited about the Bucks front court before this season is what leaves Ilyasova’s contract an irrelevant factor when it comes to his minutes. People were very excited about Milwaukee having a bunch of long, athletic power forwards in the front court before this season started. Now that the Bucks are playing some of those same forwards, people are concerned that not playing is damaging Ilyasova’s confidence. If that’s all it takes for this guy to break down, then obviously this franchise made a huge mistake in July.
Ilyasova hasn’t earned the leeway many want him to have. The leeway Jennings and Ellis get. Before last season Ilyasova had shown flashes of being a consistently productive rebounder and shooter. He’d also shown flashes of completely forgetting how to make open jumpers. No one knew which was more likely to continue. Then Ilyasova slapped together three consistent months last season where he made threes and kept crashing the glass and earned himself third banana money.
Now that’s looking like a distant memory as he struggles with the idea of getting minutes based on how he’s playing now, not how he played nine months ago.
A simple solution for Ilyasova: quit playing so poorly. Ilyasova’s managed a PER of nine through 13 games. Nine! Only 11 other Bucks in franchise history have played more than 20 minutes per game and managed such awful production. One of them was Stephen Jackson. Some of the others were out there for defensive purposes (Ervin Johnson, Michael Curry, Charlie Bell) and most of the rest were just terrible players or trying to get out of Milwaukee as fast as possible (Brian Skinner and Todd Day).
Regardless of the minutes he gets now, he’ll find himself with fewer and fewer if he keeps playing so poorly when he does play. If Ilyasova refocuses on the glass on both ends and starts finishing around the hoop again he’ll find his minutes increasing soon enough. It just takes production, regardless of contract.