I’ve recently been complaining quite a bit about how many shots Ersan Ilyasova has been getting. He’s possibly the most efficient player on the Bucks and he’s been lights out from three over his past 30 games or so.
Let’s break down Ilyasova’s season in smaller segments:
So he’s been very good over the past 16 games (all since Scott Skiles and the Bucks went their separate ways). He’s played more minutes, made more shots and hit threes at a fantastic clip. But he’s only taking a baby’s handful more shots than he was taking previously.
On the season, he’s a distant third on shot attempts for the Bucks. Both Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings are averaging over 16.5 shots per game, while poor Ilyasova languishes far behind them, attempting a measly 9.4 shots per game. Ellis and Jennings need to get out of the way, get the ball to Ilyasova and let Milwaukee’s most efficient scorer go to work, right?
It doesn’t work that way. And this is really my biggest issue with Ilyasova in his current role.
Ersan Ilyasova never creates his own shot. Maybe he’s actually super good at it and the Bucks just aren’t letting him blossom, but I lean towards the belief that he doesn’t really have the ability to do it.
He’s so incapable of creating anything for himself that you rarely even see the Bucks run a play for him. We see Mike Dunleavy come around screens all night long. He’s given the ball on the move and he makes a decision about what to do next. He could drive, he can pull up and shoot or he can keep the ball moving. He often makes a solid decision and keeps the Bucks offense moving. It’s nice when the ball is in his hands because he’s a much better shooter than Ellis or Jennings, so he feels like more of a threat to do something positive on offense.
I don’t expect Ilyasova to be able to come around screens the way the surprisingly nimble (for a guy with a history of knee issues) Dunleavy does. Ilyasova is a big guy, he’s 6-foot-10 and over 230 pounds. He’s not going to come flying around a screen any time soon. Unfortunately though, he isn’t really a post-up threat either. I don’t mean he isn’t a threat to score, I mean he literally isn’t a threat to post-up. He has posted up on 19 of his 515 offensive possessions this season. 19!
So he doesn’t post-up. That doesn’t damn him to a listless career devoid of value. But he can’t really isolate either. He’s only done that on 11 possessions this year. So he’s a thinner power forward who can’t really post-up or take guys one-on-one.
Again, this doesn’t leave him useless. But I’m not sure it makes him a great fit as a third option on a team. And that’s how he’s kind of been billed for the Bucks. Regardless of how he’s been billed, that’s the role he’s played. He’s third in shot attempts, third in minutes, third in points. He’s number three. How is he going to be a number three guy when he can’t do anything but rely on one and two to get his?
Here’s how Ilyasvoa gets his points: He’s the pick part of pick and rolls or he spots-up, waiting for, typically, Ellis and Jennings to get him the ball. You might be thinking that’s a common role for a guy like Ers, but I’d say it’s not entirely all he would need to be if he were really something special. Ryan Anderson has posted up five times as often as Ilyasova and worked in isolation nine times as often. That’s supposed to be his closest comparison, but he doesn’t have to rely on his guards in pick and rolls anywhere near as often.
81.3% (as of February 3) of Ilyasova’s baskets have been assisted this year. He’s on par with Richard Hamilton, Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner and Darrell Arthur in this regard. With the exception of Hamilton, who’s famous for curling and shooting non-stop, those are guys hardly featured or relied upon in their team’s offenses.
I’d argue that Ilyasova is better than each of the players I just listed. But that doesn’t really make him A. Worth the money he’s getting paid or B. A logical third option. He’s a fantastic fourth option or maybe even what I’d call a DISTANT third option on a good team. He’s kind of a DISTANT third option now, but with two bad offensive players ahead of him. If Ellis and Jennings were Lebron James and Dwyane Wade, maybe Ilyasova’s deficiencies are even less important. But he has two shot creators that can’t do a lot else in front of him with the ball.
Creating your own shot is really only valuable if you’re a good enough player to convert on that creation. On the flip side though, being really good at converting shots has a ceiling if you’re incapable of creating them. Especially if you play with two ball-dominant guards.
So my pleas for more offense from Ersan will probably remain distant cries in the night that carry no meaning towards a Bucks team very geared towards two players on offense. Not just because those guys like to have things geared to them, but because Milwaukee’s third best option isn’t really a third best option.