Bucks/Bulls Key Matchup: Ersan Ilyasova vs. Pau Gasol


No matter how many guards light up their opponents with flashy jump shooting ala Stephen Curry, the big guys on an NBA team will always be crucial. This holds especially true for the upcoming Milwaukee/Chicago playoff series.

The Bulls got to the third seed despite losing Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler for parts of the season in large part because they’re so large. The Bulls have a huge foursome of Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic who have all totaled at least 1600 minutes for Chicago and all started at least a handful of games.

The Bucks are essentially the exact opposite. Zaza Pachulia is the only Milwaukee big to play at least 1600 minutes, and he’s played less than Gasol or Noah. Ersan Ilyasova and John Henson are next closest, with around 1300 and 1200 minutes respectively.

Milwaukee hasn’t had a stable of power forwards and centers to come in and play lots of minutes for them this season like Chicago has, so the Bucks have relied on a lot of small-ball this year. That was fine in getting them this far, but Milwaukee will need Ersan Ilyasova to really come through against Gasol (and whoever else the Bulls throw at him) if they want to win this series.

Ersan’s performance this season has been decidedly solid. He’s caught fire for a few games, and fortunately for Milwaukee several of those contests have happened in the past month or so. That might mean Ilyasova is starting to warm up and play at a higher level in the postseason, which would obviously help Milwaukee immensely.


Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/17/2015.

2014-15 ★787815.5.4940.3.46215.1.4954.9.8033.09.412.

Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/17/2015.

The above tables showcase both Ilyasova’s (top) and Gasol’s (bottom) stats per 36 minutes this season. Aside from the games started/played and the All-Star next to Gasol’s season, they’re not remarkably different from each other.

Pau is a much better rebounder, he assists, blocks and scores more and has a slightly higher field goal percentage and three-point percentage than Ersan. That percentage is skewed by the difference in attempts, however.

Ilyasova takes about five more threes per game than Gasol, who in reality only takes a three-point shot about once every three games. I’d say that makes Ilyasova the better three-point shooter overall, and he also makes a higher percentage of his two-point shots. Although Gasol manages to score slightly more, Ersan’s scoring is more efficient. This is exemplified in his slightly better true shooting percentage.

Pau Gasol7822.7.550.023.31718.614.
Ersan Ilyasova5816.8.554.341.19212.

Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/17/2015.

I like using advanced stats to get a better grasp of a player’s impact, and these ones help to confirm what we already know. Gasol has more of an impact on the game which is shown by his better win shares, player efficiency rating, rebounding percentage, assist percentage, and block percentage.

Ersan doesn’t look very strong next to Pau in this category, but you can still tell the things he does well. Ilyasova has a slightly better true shooting percentage, takes a ton more threes than Gasol, turns the ball over less while stealing more than Gasol, and actually comes out ahead in offensive box plus/minus.

I think its fair to say that Ersan is essentially kind of Pau-lite. Gasol is better at most things, but Ilyasova has his strengths as well, and isn’t terrible at anything. He’s just quieter offensively and not as active on the boards. But how does that affect this pair’s actual matchup for this series?

15Pau Gasol2014-11-05W35:5014.57107.85714101222
16Ersan Ilyasova2014-11-05L16:104.75011.0000110027
17Pau Gasol2015-02-23W29:259.5561.0008.62510101215
18Ersan Ilyasova2015-02-23L35:2516.3758.375011211015
19Pau Gasol2015-04-01L33:3811.4551.0007.57111410314
20Ersan Ilyasova2015-04-01W31:1117.3537.4292.5004221216

Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/17/2015.

Here are the numbers from the only three times Ilyasova and Gasol have matched up since Gasol joined the Bulls before this season. Pau was terrific in the first game, but we’re going to largely ignore that one since Ersan only played 16 minutes and took just four shots.

Game two was a big win for Chicago, but Ilyasova held his own. Surprisingly enough he actually managed to out-rebound Gasol, although he did play six minutes more than his counterpart. Ersan also recorded as many points, more steals and assists, and had two less turnovers than Gasol, although he wasn’t as efficient.

The third game between the two was a nice win for the Bucks, and a good game for both players. This one is probably most indicative of how these two will perform against each other. Gasol dominated the boards, outscored Ilyasova and had a solid 14 points, four assists and a steal.

Ersan did what he does best, outscoring Pau by two points on over 40 percent shooting from the three-point line, but tallied just four rebounds in addition to two steals, two assists and a block.

I think that’s exactly how these two are going to match up in this upcoming series. Ersan will be able to shoot and make threes, which will keep the two around the same points per game total, but Pau is going to eat Ers up on the glass and probably double-double each game.

Those are the two clear advantages for these two, and the most important factor in deciding this particular key matchup. Whichever of the duo’s strongest skills ends up being more valuable to their team decides the matchup. Will it be Ersan’s long-range proficiency or Pau’s superior rebounding?

Next: Bucks/Bulls Key Matchup: Michael Carter-Williams vs. Derrick Rose

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