Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Ilyasova Update

Ersan Ilyasova has been working out in Milwaukee since the season ended and as Gery Woelfel reports, he's looking downright scary.

Ilyasova, the Bucks’ second-round draft choice two years ago, has made amazing – repeat, amazing – strides with his body during this off-season. Once the possessor of a somewhat scrawny frame, Ilyasova has transformed into the “Incredible Hulk.’’

When the Bucks’ 2006-2007 regular season mercifully ended, the 6-foot-9 Ilyasova weighed only 218 pounds.

Ilyasova seemingly is on a mission to prove that he not only belongs in the NBA but that he can be a highly-successful NBA player. While most of his teammates have gone home for the summer or are on vacation to in some exotic locale, the 20-year-old native of Turkey has spent virtually all of his time in Milwaukee.

“He started working out here on May 7 and he’s probably missed, maybe, two times,’’ Wilson said. “His work ethic is top shelf.’’
We first heard reports of Ersan's bulking up from people attending the draft workouts at the Cousins Center, where Ersan has been working since the end of the season. We've heard rumors for a while that he's being pursued by European teams--he mentions Real Madrid, Moscow, and Turkey in Woelfel's article--so it's at least reassuring to hear from the source that the Bucks remain his first choice. With Ruben Patterson likely not returning and Bobby Simmons' health still a major question mark, re-signing Ilyasova has the practical purpose of providing much-needed depth at the forward spots. But perhaps more importantly he's also a wild card of sorts. He has a sweet three point stroke, a nice jab-step and pullback jumper, and his length and hustle suggest the potential to be an above-average defender. Those things should make him at least a solid rotation player in a year or two, but he could also develop into something much better. In his first NBA season he often looked like a dear in headlights and had more than his share of awkward moments, but there were also a fair number of "Wow" moments and as you'd hope from a player so young, he actually improved notably over the course of the season.

My initial guess heading into the offseason was that the Bucks would re-sign Ilyasova for something in the ballpark of 2 years and $4-5 million total, thus giving the Bucks more time to evaluate him while also providing Ilyasova a chance to sign a more lucrative contract in only two years should he break out. As an Early Bird restricted free agent, Ilyasova could sign for as much as the MLE with any team, with the Bucks would retain the right to match any offer. But the interest of European teams not bound by the salary cap could push that number closer to $3 or perhaps even $4 million (my speculation). Moreover, Amir Johnson and Andray Blatche, former McDonald's All-Americans who were also second-rounders from the '05 draft, are rumored to be in line for deals close to the MLE in spite of sparse playing time their first two years. Ersan may be a little more under the radar than those two, especially since they're taller and had higher profiles coming into the league. Lastly, going after RFAs is risky because the player's incumbent team has a week to match the offer sheet, and in that time it counts against the offering team's cap. As a result, the offering team can't use its cap space to go after other players, who may very well be gone by the time the offer sheet is matched, leaving them with nothing to show for their efforts.

Like last summer, Ersan is expected to compete for Turkey at both the junior and senior levels this summer, which should provide an interesting preview of what might be to come. Of course, he was MVP of the U20 Euro Championships last year and was also voted the best young player at the Senior World Championships later in the summer, so expectations will be high. As I'm becoming increasingly skeptical that the Bucks will be able to lure Gerald Wallace from Charlotte, it seems to make more sense to bring Ilyasova back even at $4 million per season, perhaps in addition to another veteran swingman like Morris Peterson or even Desmond Mason.

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