Maybe all it took was the Boston Celtics to remind the Bucks who they were supposed to be this season, and to remind coach Scott Skiles who some of last season’s Bucks are.
Today, the Bucks-o-sphere is hailing the return of “the ‘real’ Ilyasova.” It was a different story on Monday, on the same Journal Sentinel blog, as Bucks writer Tom Enlund asked Skiles the question on many Bucks fans minds: Why isn’t Ersan Ilyasova playing?
Judging by some of the comments under Enlund’s story, a lot of Bucks fans don’t appreciate Ilyasova’s game — the hustle, the knack for being in the right place at the right time on the offensive glass and in the fight for loose balls (those 50-50 plays that Skiles, Andrew Bogut and Luc Mbah a Moute talk about), the hard-nosed defense (hello, KG), the smart passing and, yes, the good and often timely shooting.
Today may be a different story. Skiles played Ilyasova 35 minutes against the Celtics, mostly on Kevin Garnett, holding the C’s leader to 13 points and 8 boards in 38 minutes. Though Garnett made a couple of clutch shots in the final minutes of regulation, that’s as “in check” as Skiles could have asked for after Drew Gooden (again) fell into foul trouble and clearly wasn’t up to the Celtics challenge.
On the offensive end, Ersan hit both of his threes, turning a decent scoring night into the kind of highly efficient scoring game that the Bucks needed to have a chance for the win. 15 points on ten shots (and three free throws) will get it done, and almost did in Boston. Last night was no aberration — Ilyasova averaged 15.9 pts and 9.8 rebs per 36 minutes last season.
From the Boston point of view, the Bucks were the same tenacious, hustling team that they faced last year.
… dealing with a back-to-back of their own, the Bucks were as much of a nuisance to the Celtics as they were last season, when they became the team Boston was trying to avoid meeting in the playoffs. Bogut finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds. Ersan Ilyasova added 15 points off the bench. — Boston Globe.
You wouldn’t know that Ilyasova had missed a beat (and a few jumpers) since his stunning playoffs against the Hawks last season and his run to the silver medal at the 2010 World Championships, leading his Turkish team in scoring (14 pts per game) and rebounding (7.5 rpg). The Worlds didn’t get much coverage in Milwaukee due to the start of the NFL season in football-hungry Packerland, but Ersan’s performance didn’t go unnoticed in other NBA media.
Denver Post writer Chris Dempsey tabbed Ilyasova “the most fascinating player in the FIBA 2010 tournament.”
Ilyasova will be as bright a star as the Milwaukee Bucks want him to be. If they clear the path of capable, but limited guys like Luc Richard Mbah-Moute, Carlos Delfino and Corey Maggette – and empower Ilyasova to look for his shot on the same level as Michael Redd, John Salmons and Andrew Bogut – the Bucks have a budding superstar on their hands.
Now, Ilyasova has to do his part. Bucks coach Scott Skiles won’t stand for lackluster effort on defense and the glass, so he’ll have to sharpen his game in those areas. But having seen the explosiveness with which he can play – and showed some in the playoffs last season – I’d say he’s earned a chance to prove he can start and play a major role, giving the Bucks a young perimeter threat to grow with Brandon Jennings and Bogut.
If not, Ilyasova is going to get a chance to seek his big opportunity – and soon.
And there’s the rub — Ersan will be “as bright a star as the Bucks want him to be.” The 5-year, $32 million contract signed by journeyman power forward Drew Gooden says that the Bucks don’t really want Ilyasova to be a bright star, not that bright and not yet. Until Gooden proved not-ready-for-Boston, Skiles would hardly let Ersan on the court, apparently yanking him unless he made his first shots.
So if it seems that the standards for Ilyasova are different than the standards for other players, Gooden for example, they probably are. This is a problem, considering that the Bucks mantra since Skiles and Hammond took over has been that double standards do not exist on a Scott Skiles team.
Boston was just one game, but it seems as though the visage of Garnett may have reminded Skiles that Ilyasova’s been sitting on his bench through the first four games, waiting for a chance to be the player that he was last season and still is. I hope Skiles doesn’t forget any time soon.
Now, about those meager ten minutes that Luc Mbah a Moute played against the Celtics …