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Study Abroad: Ersan Ilyasova

Ilyasova's defense has been a bright spot in Spain.

When Bucks' forward Ersan Ilyasova signed with Barcelona last summer, it would have been easy to close the book on him as simply another second round pick that washed out.  Which might not seem like a big deal until you consider that in 2005, Larry Harris and Dave Babcock chose the Turkish teenager over now-familiar names like Monta Ellis, Ryan Gomes, Louis Williams, Andray Blatche and Amir Johnson. Fortunately, Ilyasova's relative youth (he just turned 21...we think) and the progress he appears to be making in Spain suggest that he could yet become a productive player in the NBA--whether it's in Milwaukee or elsewhere. 

While his overall numbers in Spain are modest (6.2 ppg/2.9 rpg/14 mpg in league play and 6.1 ppg/4.7 rpg/18 mpg in the Euroleague ), Ilyasova has taken a more prominent role for Barcelona since the departure of Barca coach Dusko Ivanovic in Feburary, including 14.8 ppg in his last four league games. He also notched a career night against Euroleague finalists Maccabi Tel Aviv last month with 21 points (8/12 fg), nine rebounds, and two blocks.  He's shot the ball fairly well in the league (.457/.403/.735), but his shooting in the Euroleague has been rather abysmal in more limited action (.378/.241/.538). 

If you're wondering why a former NBA player wouldn't be more dominant in Europe, consider that no Barcelona player averages more than 28 mpg or 14 ppg in league play, a product of the pace and substitution patterns used in Spain. And not to make too many excuses for the guy, but Ilyasova's numbers are also a little more palatable when you consider the more guard-dominated style favored in Europe. For example, Ersan's teammate Fran Vazquez--the 25-year old center who was picked 11th overall by the Magic in 2005--averages just 6.3 ppg and 2.9 rpg in 16 mpg.

For a good take on how Ersan is developing, check out our buddy Charlie Bury's recent assessment after seeing Barcelona take on Unicaja Malaga--a team that somehow manages to feature three former Bucks: the immortal Jiri Welsch, Marcus Haislip and Daniel Santiago.

The first thing that that initially jumped out at me was how much Ersan's passing has improved. I remember being surprised at how bad of a passer he was during his year in Milwaukee, considering most Euros are so fundamentally sound when they come over. Ilyasova was making quick, smart passes that lead to easy baskets for his teammates. Instead of holding the ball and pump-faking 8 times, if Ersan didn’t have a good look he would quickly swing the ball to a teammate.

Ilyasva still has that nose for the ball. There wasn't a single rebound battle that Ersan wasn't right in the middle of when he was in the game....

Overall I came away pretty impressed and optimistic about Ilyasova's NBA future. He was clearly one of the most athletic players on the court and really was a force defensively. The game was fiercely intense and Ersan's new coach (the club fired Dusko Ivanovic a few weeks ago) had him in during crunch time. In my opinion Ersan would be well served to stay in Barcelona for one more year, continue and improve his shooting and fundamentals and return to us for the 09/10 season. He has a bright future.

So what's next for Ersan?  Babcock has said he talks to Ersan about once a week, indicative of the Bucks' continued interest in his progress.  His Barcelona contract also allows him to leave Spain a year early if he has an offer from an NBA team, and with the Bucks maintaining Ersan's early Bird rights they have the right to match any NBA offer he receives.  But while John Hammond has pinpointed the small forward position as the Bucks' most obvious position of need, it's difficult to imagine the Bucks pinning their SF hopes on Ilyasova in 08/09.  However, with Desmond Mason's deal expiring in the summer of 2009, there should be a chance for Ersan to return in the not-so-distant future.  He's unlikely to be the next Kirilenko as he was once billed by some scouts, but a Vlad Radmanovic-type with some defensive chops would suit the Bucks just fine.