NBA Free Agency 2012: Ersan Ilyasova, Bucks Nearing 5-Year, $45 Million Deal, According To Report

Say hello to the new highest-paid player on the Milwaukee Bucks (reportedly! Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

The Milwaukee Bucks and 25-year-old power forward Ersan Ilyasova are close finalizing a five-year, $45 million deal, according to a report from Jorge Sierra of HoopsHype. Ilyasova's agent, Tolga Tugsavul, informed the site that the contract should be finalized later this week, which provides some context to Gery Woelfel's report that Bucks owner Herb Kohl is scheduled to meet with Ilyasova and his representatives on Tuesday.

Ilyasova has played four NBA seasons (267 games) with the Bucks since being selected by the team with the No. 36 overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, and holds career averages of 9.7 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. He played his best basketball during the second half of the 2011-12 season, where he used a huge surge from three-point range to post the best efficiency numbers of his young career -- he shot 50.8 percent (32-63) from beyond the arc during the final 28 games, 38.8 percent (19-49) for the rest of the season and is a career 35.7 percent three-point shooter.

By signing him for $9M annually (reportedly), Bucks general manager John Hammond is clearly confident that Ilyasova will continue to post great shooting numbers in addition to providing his signature hustle on the offensive glass and precise positioning on defense. Here is what Hammond had to say about Ilyasova during his post-season press conference back in May:

"Ersan had a great season and you know one thing about Ersan is that you know the one thing you're going to get out of him every single night is effort. He can't help himself, he's going to play as hard as he possibly can every singly night and you can live with that for sure. What he did this year was he just shot the ball so much better than he has in the past, especially from three, and he turned out to be a real stretch power forward, and those guys are so valuable to have on your team, and that's what I think created some value for him around the league, too. It's not going to be easy for us to re-sign him and we know that. But he did have a great year and we're happy for him, and hopefully he'll be right back with us."

UPDATE: The Bucks hold a team option in the fifth year of the contract , according to Gery Woelfel.

To think Ersan will be a serviceable stretch-PF is certainly reasonable, but $9M contracts aren't dished out for a player to be just serviceable. My favorite line on a potential Ersan signing has been "you could certainly do worse," but that's not something I particularly want to say about the player paid the most long-term cash on the Bucks. I repeat: Ersan Ilyasova is set to become the player with the largest long-term commitment on the Milwaukee Bucks.

I've written about the likelihood of a regression in the Turk's three-point shooting, but instead of beating that horse to death, here is a bit of what I wrote about why the team may be optimistic about his production going forward. The key concept is improved shot selection:

Ersan_shooting_large

In essence, he has greatly increased the percentage of total shot attempts at the rim over the last three years. It has risen from 30.3% in 09-10 and 29.0% in 10-11 to 44.6% in 11-12. His percentage of shots from mid-range and three-point range also dropped to a career low this past season. More shots at the rim has led to a higher conversion rate, while more selective long-range shooting has helped him stay efficient. It's a good trend that bodes well for the future.

Unfortunately, there are other trends to be more worried about going forward. What concerns me most is just how important the final 28 games of 2011-12 are to Ersan's perceived value. He posted an impressive 20.5 PER last season and as K.L. Chouinard of Behind The Buck Pass pointed out, in 2011-12 Ilyasova became the only player ever to hit 45% of his field goals, 40% of his three-point field goals, and grab 15% of total rebounds (min 25 three-point field goals). Very cool stuff, but take a look at the splits I broke out on him after the season:

GP OREB% DREB% REB% eFG% TS% Usage
First 32 Games (2011-12) 13.50% 23.70% 18.30% 46.20% 50.90% 18.40%
Last 28 Games (2011-12) 11.10% 21.90% 16.30% 60.40% 64.10% 17.90%
Career Totals 9.40% 21.10% 15.10% 49.50% 53.40% 20.20%

My question is this: what player doesn't look like an elite third option when isolating the best 50 (or 28-game) stretch of their NBA career? That's the biggest problem I have with this deal. It's a huge gamble that goes beyond the acceptable estimates for total years and annual salary. Why might the Bucks have felt the need to bid so high? Some of it has to do with a clear need for a weak side shooter to stretch the floor, the rest has to do with hubris.

I recently broke down the free agency needs of the Bucks, and they are in serious need of a stretch shooter. Here is what I wrote in conclusion to that analysis:

The Bucks also need a weakside shooter and a pick-and-pop option at the (4) on offense. Ekpe Udoh, LRMAM and Samuel Dalembert may have to fill that roll, but it's not a recipe for good spacing or efficient offense. Unless the Bucks add someone else to hit corner threes (like Delfino) or a true pick-and-pop option (like...gulp...Ersan Ilyasova at five-years and $40 million), things could become very difficult for Jennings and Ellis as driving lanes are cut off by sagging defenders in non-Dunleavy lineups.

Now to the hubris. Herb Kohl and the Bucks hate to let young players get away. The names Tim Thomas, Dan Gadzuric, Charlie Bell and Mo Williams particularly come to mind. It's unfair to call Ilyasova the next step in this pattern of mistakes, but it's completely fair to point out the Bucks' pattern of free agency mistakes. It goes like this: fight hard to get cap space, make panic signing of a role player over market value, trade to get more cap space, do it all over again, wonder why people aren't excited about the talent level of the team. Here is some of what I wrote in my analysis of Ilyasova's free agency prospects back in May

If the magical three-point percentage fairy had visited him earlier in the year...the "same old Ersan" thoughts might be permeating the halls of the organization at the moment.

Then again, something tells me timing has a profound effect on a franchise that is more lovesick for the playoffs than it is resolute in building a true contender. That same hubris is how a 30-year-old lifetime NBA backup namedJohn Salmons made out with a five-year, $39M deal that is still impossible to justify based on the weight of evidence from his career. Is Ilyasova as undeserving as Salmons? No. Would a similar deal be too much money? Probably. Might the Bucks still pony up the cash now and ask questions later? Yup.

Something tells me timing has a profound effect on a franchise that is more lovesick for the playoffs than it is resolute in building a true contender. That same hubris is how a 30-year-old lifetime NBA backup named John Salmons made out with a five-year, $39M deal that is still impossible to justify based on the weight of evidence from his career. Is Ilyasova as undeserving as Salmons? No. Would a similar deal be too much money? Probably. Might the Bucks still pony up the cash now and ask questions later? Yup.

It seems the Bucks are ponying up the cash. Is it still fair to ask questions now and later?

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