After Brandon Jennings stated he has not and will not play to his potential this season and Stephen Jackson made it publicly clear Milwaukee is not the place for him, one player decided it was time to take a stand.
Ersan Ilyasova has saved the Milwaukee Bucks from embarrassment several times this season and is proving why he is arguably the best player on the team. It is rare to find a 6’10” power forward who is out-hustling everyone on the court but that is exactly what Ilyasova does. Every time there is a loose ball or rebound up for grabs, Ilyasova is there to secure the possession. He plays with an intensity that every coach wants to see and if every player on the Bucks played the way he does, who knows where they would be in the Eastern Conference standings.
Ilyasova played with Anadolu Efes in Turkey this past summer during the NBA lockout and returned to the Bucks because of the one year remaining on his contract. He will be a free agent at the end of this season and made it perfectly clear he will sign with whichever team pays him the most money, whether it is in the NBA or overseas. One thing is for certain, the Bucks cannot afford to lose him under any circumstances.
After trying to build a team around players like Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings, it is clear the person they should be concentrating on is Ilyasova. He is not the most athletic player and there are certainly nights when he just cannot hit his shots but with the right teammates, who knows what the outcome could be. His play in the post is getting better and he can knock down a three-pointer all day. In fact, his 42.9 percent from behind the arc has been huge this season because it forces the opposing team’s big players to come out and defend around the perimeter.
Ilyasova began the year in the starting lineup but was taken out in place of rookie Jon Leuer. Instead of getting down on himself for being benched he began to play even better. The Bucks have been able to pull away in many games this season because of his production off the bench. Defensive specialist Luc Richard Mbah a Moute replaced Leuer in the starting lineup but did not bring enough offense to the table. Since Milwaukee went on another recent three-game losing skid head coach Scott Skiles decided to shake things up and make Ilyasova a starter once again. In a win against the New Jersey Nets Sunday night, Ilyasova had 29 points and 25 rebounds while converting 50 percent of his three-point attempts.
Ilyasova may not be an All-Star or someone a team franchises but he is definitely the type of player a team needs to win an NBA championship. In 30 games this season, he is averaging 10.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game while shooting 42.6 percent from the field in 24.5 minutes.
Clearly building a slow paced team around Bogut did not pane out and Jennings has made it perfectly clear he will not be in Milwaukee once he is eligible for free agency in two years, so the logical thing for the Bucks to do is get people who will play to the strengths of Ilyasova. Current Bucks players such as Carlos Delfino, Drew Gooden, Mike Dunleavy, Shaun Livingston and rookies Jon Leuer and Tobias Harris make for a good team but they still need more.
A big athletic point guard who is dedicated to winning should be the first order of business. Another possibility is to move Livingston to point guard, his natural position, and acquire a good shooting guard who can make outside shots while also being able to drive to the basket. I realize it seems like I am trying to build a fantasy team here but these are the things general manager John Hammond needs to do in order for the team to be successful. There are pieces to the puzzle already in place and then there are the bad apples. The Bucks must decide what it will take to bring a sad franchise back to its former glory before it is too late.