Analyzing The Anomalous: Ersan Ilyasova vs. New Jersey
The “Analyzing The Anomalous” feature was created for performances like this one—unlikely showings put on by the league’s most secluded players; in a nutshell, they force fan conversation and prove evident why basketball’s unpredictable nature makes it such an intriguing sport.
After his 19 rebound performance earlier this year, I immediately placed Ersan Ilyasova on my radar as a prime writing topic. All I needed was the right time to pounce, and last night against the Nets couldn’t have been more convenient. It was one of the most unlikely, spectacular box scores a player has posted this season, and unfortunately it came on the same day Jeremy Lin dropped a 28 point, 14 assist gem against Dallas, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined to score 231 points in the crushing of Denver’s soul, and Serge Ibaka put himself in pole position for second place among all Defensive Player of the Year candidates with a triple double that included 11 blocks. That sucks. Here’s my attempt at shining a bit of light on Ilyasova’s performance, as well as highlighting how he’s been doing this year in the shadows of Milwaukee.
Ersan Ilyasova vs. New Jersey. Bucks won 92-85. Ilyasova’s statistics: 36 minutes, 29 points (on 11-23 shooting), 25 rebounds (13 offensive), 1 charge, 1 turnover, 1 block, 0 assists.
- The theme of his offensive performance was positioning around the basket. These rebounds weren’t by mistake, and it’s no surprise that Ilyasova has already seen several double-digit rebounding performances this season. On several instances he would get good low post position, call for the ball, and then—as if it were some sort of set play—spin around his man, situating himself in perfect position for a tip as a jumper flew towards the basket. Plays like this can’t happen all the time (sometimes the ball literally doesn’t bounce your way) but by placing himself in an advantageous position, Ilyasova did more than his fair share of the job to make something positive possible.
- From the get go Ilyasova was active, slipping a screen and converting on a smooth baseline jumper for the Bucks second basket. I like to think that when a simple two pointer like this is converted early, it has the power to get someone going. In all facets of momentum there has to be a beginning—this was Ilyasova’s.
- His second basket was also his first offensive rebound. The angular Ilyasova plucked a rebound over the top of Kris Humphries’ outstretched arms, like a big brother taunting his helpless younger sibling.
- It’s so strange how we label someone a “playmaker” in today’s game. James Harden can make something happen by orchestrating a brilliant pick and roll with his partner or penetrating off the dribble and making a smart decision. In this game it’d be tough to neglect the same title for Ilyasova, yet he recorded 0 assists, had a game high seven of his made field goals assisted by a teammate, and attempted 0 shots in isolation. Instead he kept possessions alive with his play on the boards, made himself available for shots by fluidly moving without the ball, and demoralized New Jersey’s defensive game plan by repeatedly creating something out of nothing. It’s less aesthetically pleasing than what Harden does, but making plays is making plays.
- Up seven points with five minutes left in the game, the Bucks attempted to replicate their early game pick and roll success by having Ilyasova slip to the baseline for a jump shot. Recognizing this is what they wanted to do, Humphries stuck to his man and denied the pass. But Milwaukee was patient. They spent the next 15 seconds swinging the ball around for the perimeter before running another pick and pop with Ilyasova and Jennings at the top of the key. This time, Humphries was too slow in recovery and a three-pointer was drained.
- On his final bucket of the game, Ilyasova set the second of two screens for a Shaun Livingston curl, then rolled towards the basket. (Actually, I wouldn’t even call this a roll. It was more of a casual stroll.) The Nets’ defensive reaction was to treat Ilyasova as if he were wearing an invisible cloak. He stood wide open underneath the basket for a split second—behind all five of New Jersey’s defenders—took the obvious pass from Livingston and laid it in. You can’t deny the genius and effort that goes into a 29 point, 25 rebound performance, but the Nets looked like the abysmal basketball team they’re so reputed to be throughout the night.
- From the waist up, Ilyasova resembles an empty coat rack with tentacles. A little bit of his high rebounding was being in the right place at the right time, and out working the likes of Shelden Williams and Kris Humphries.
- Watching all his attempted field goals I noticed something strange. When the Bucks called a play for Ilyasova or used him to take advantage of a mismatch, more times than not he’d get his shot blocked or simply miss it. When it was a case of him doing his own work, whether that be finding open space and making himself available after a guard penetrates, or crashing the glass and getting the ball on his own, that’s where he found the most success.
- According to Basketball-Reference, Ilyasova is just 8-22 on tip-in shots this season. Last night he was 2-2.
- It seems the Bucks went into this game without Ilyasova in their game plan. He took five of his team’s 26 spot-up shots, accounted for two of his team’s five shots from the post (this is where he had his only turnover), and never came off a screen to shoot. (He’s made 18 threes this year—only one was not assisted by a teammate.)