A busy few days in Bucks Land. After much speculation as to the fate of head coach Scott Skiles, many of us caught wind of some substantial rumors suggesting Skiles would be moving on to new things. Discussion quickly shifted to a combination of reflection on his time here, plus ideas on who could be next. Then, suddenly, "official" news broke. Skiles was coming back. Chaos ensued.
BUT OF COURSE, we'll have plenty of time to discuss that story later! For now, we're continuing to turn our eyes towards the brighter days of the Milwaukee Bucks' 2011-2012 season, highlighting players whose performances stood out among the rest.
Today we're looking at Milwaukee's Most Improved Player. Lots of guys made strides this season, even if that individual progress was belied by the team's failure to reach the playoffs. As always, cast your vote for the award after the jump!
Frank: Ersan Ilyasova. For all the heartburn over the Bucks' disappointing finish and the usual talk of Scott Skiles' inability to develop young players, there was actually no shortage of Bucks players who broke through with career seasons in 11/12. Despite some February speedbumps, Brandon Jennings made real strides and might yet be the Bucks' long-term solution at point guard, Larry Sanders improved in virtually every statistical category while also becoming a plus/minus beast, and Drew Gooden may have actually made himself tradeable again after a dreadful first year in Milwaukee (no small feat).
But in the end there was no real competition for this award; Ersan Ilyasova was probably the most improved player in the whole NBA, let alone in the city of Milwaukee. While it might seem like Ilyasova's career year was concentrated in only a couple months of sterling play, the reality is his ascent started in late January and continued unabated through February, March and April. Over the final 37 games he posted 16.2 ppg, 9.6 rpg and a rather sensational .532/.488/.815 shooting line (63.2% true shooting), suggesting at long last that he could actually be a long-term NBA starter--in Milwaukee or elsewhere. The shame is that many of us (myself included) have been too busy preemptively bemoaning his inevitable pay raise to just sit back and appreciate a young player taking a big leap forwards with his game. So on behalf of all the cynics I'll just say this: well done, Ersan.
Steve: Ersan Ilyasova. I'll take Ersanity in this one. Wait a second...how much will it cost again? Oh. I see. He's still affordable for the moment. Yeah, then I'll take Ilyasova. Might as well pump up his value heading into the 2012 NBA Free Agency period, right? Wait, what?
Jacob: Ersan Ilyasova. While several players on the Bucks made improvements from last year (Brandon Jennings and perhaps Drew Gooden) none were as dramatic or had as much of an impact as Ersan's. Following a quiet year in which his outside shooting mostly seemed to misfire, Ersan made a huge rebound (no pun intended). His three point percentage skyrocketed up to 45%, part of a bigger leap that saw his TS% go up six percentage points. Aside from his leaps in rebounding, his PER of 20.53 puts him in the same stratosphere as Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett. He had more then his fair share of monster games, including a 25 point, 29 rebound masterpiece in New Jersey that was part of his "Ersanity" campaign. The question is, can he keep these types of performances up? The answer will determine how much cash he receives this summer-- whether it's the Bucks or someone else paying up. NBA General Managers aren't exactly noted for thinking long term, so it's possible-some might say likely-that he may be getting more then his play has warranted. Though his play has been excellent, it has also been somewhat one dimensional, and it's unclear how much of his play was simply due to his contract-year status.
Mitchell: Ersan Ilyasova. Quite simply, this year was Ersan's best case scenario. While my gut told me to go with Brandon Jennings, who did show some improvement this season, there's no way to ignore the huge leap Ersan took this season. He hit nearly 46% (!) of his threes, whereas he couldn't even break 30% last year. He also improved his rebounds by nearly 3 per game, as well as increasing his blocks and steals while actually lowering his foul rate. Is this his new standard, or an extended flash in the pan?
At 24 years old, Ersan still has a little bit of time to further improve his game, but nobody in their right mind will try to put him in a role where he doesn't fit. He's a stretch 4 best used as a spot-up shooter and offensive rebounding specialist. He could be a dynamic 3rd/4th offensive option on a playoff team, even though his upcoming contract will be on par with your run-of-the-mill 2nd option. Were the old CBA in place, I could see Ersan getting a crazy Rashard Lewis type deal, and someone will almost certainly overpay for him. All that said, no Buck improved as much as Ersan improved.
Dan: Ersan Ilyasova. Mike Dunleavy deserves a spot on the leaderboard for Sixth Man of the Year, but nobody in Milwaukee is more deserving of winning an actual award than Ersan Ilyasova. While Jeremy Lin's short but brilliant campaign may carry him to glory, I'd hope that clearer and more objective heads would prevail--Ersan's improvement was significant and sustained.
Ersan's strides look even greater considering this "breakout" season came after a "down" year in scoring and rebounding. But this year he blew even his career numbers away. The most visible improvement was probably his 3pt shooting, where he ranked 2nd in the NBA. He also went crazy on the offensive boards, boosting his ORB% to 12.7 (7th in the NBA). Simply put, Ersan transformed from a capable backup forward to arguably the NBA's best stretch-4.