Milwaukee Bucks: Ersan Ilyasova should be remembered fondly over time

CHICAGO, IL - (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Ersan Ilyasova divided opinions in his time with the Milwaukee Bucks but his influence and love for the city should see him viewed fondly in time.

If Milwaukee Bucks legend Sidney Moncrief was the picture of consistency, then cult hero Ersan Ilyasova must be viewed as his polar opposite.

On his day, Ilyasova was one of Milwaukee greatest power forwards of all-time. During a two year period between 2011 and 2013, Ilyasova averaged over 13 points per game, while shooting almost 45 percent from three. He also led the team over that two-year period in rebounds with 7.9 per game, including an impressive 2.6 offensive boards.

When Ilyasova was on, he was lethal on offense and combined with the trigger-happy Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis combo to form Milwaukee’s own pseudo “Big Three”.

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When he was off however, which for Ilyasova was the serious flaw in his game, he became a massive liability on both ends of the floor.

In the first month of play directly proceeding him signing a $40 million deal with Milwaukee in 2012, Ilyasova played some of the worst basketball of his career. He averaged only 6.7 points and 4.8 rebounds while shooting abysmally from deep at 21.4 percent. It’s not totally uncommon for players to experience a form slump after signing a new contract, but for Ilyasova this slump was unfortunately not an isolated incident and would continue to plague him throughout his time as a Buck.

As a result of his inconsistent form, it would not be uncommon to find Ilyasova’s name in trade rumors every offseason. Many Bucks fans would often cite his inadequacies on defense and his frustrating habit of turning a three-point shot into a long two-pointer by regularly managing to just put his foot on the line. At the time, Ilyasova’s contract was the second highest on the team, behind star guard Monta Ellis, which fans saw as a poor investment for his services.

Year after year, however, Ilyasova would return to training camp and play out another season as a Buck. In total Ilyasova played 453 games in Milwaukee which is actually the 18th highest in franchise history. Quite astonishing for a player as polarizing as Ilyasova. Most fans’ appreciation for Ilyasova slowly grew over the seven seasons he played in Milwaukee.

Ilyasova’s presence in the side was never more important than in his last season in Milwaukee in 2014-15. In the previous season, the Bucks had set a franchise worst record of 15-67 and finished last in the entire league. Expectations were exceedingly low at the start of the 2014-15 campaign, as the only major moves that offseason were to draft rookie forward Jabari Parker and trade for veteran forward Jared Dudley. These were considered smart acquisitions at the time, but certainly in no way were either of those two expected to provide Milwaukee with immediate success.

That season however, Ilyasova formed a large veteran presence with Dudley and Zaza Pachulia to propel the Bucks to a 41-41 season and a sixth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Bucks rallied around fringe All-Star guard Brandon Knight and this veteran group to complete one of the greatest single season turnarounds in NBA history.

The veteran presence in that team was highlighted the following season when Ilyasova, Dudley and Pachulia were all traded away to make room for free agent Greg Monroe. From there, The Bucks came crashing back down to earth, finishing with a record of 33-49 and missing the playoffs. Even though Ilyasova’s time as a Buck was plagued with inconsistencies, he had found an important place in the rotation which the Bucks had not necessarily valued or understood until after he had left.

It was at this moment, as the NBA continued to shift toward shooting forwards, when many Bucks fans realized what they had, and now had lost in Ilyasova. He was a true professional in Milwaukee and was an important cog in their wheel of success. In a 2017 interview prior to a game in the Bradley Center, Ilyasova talked about his love for Milwaukee and how he’d planted roots in the city, since arriving in 2005.

"“I kind of grew up there (Milwaukee). It’s a lot of time spent.”"

He went on to talk about how even as he has embarked on whistle-stop, journeyman’s tour around the NBA in recent years, his wife and three children have remained in Milwaukee, even after he was traded from the Bucks. As a result, returning to the city to play still means a lot to him.

"“It’s a huge thing. I haven’t seen the girls for two months now – a lot of Skype and FaceTime. I see my son, he flies back and forth with my wife.”"

Ilyasova loves Milwaukee and quite frankly, after all he’s given this franchise, most fans would admit now that the feeling is mutual. The ultimate compliment to Ilyasova would be to say how important he would be to this current Bucks side. Imagine what Jason Kidd would give to have a competent, and affordable stretch four right now.

None of that can even account for the value of Ersan’s trademark skill of drawing charges. Always a savvy positional defender, nobody has mastered the art of getting their feet set quite like Ilyasova.

In seven seasons for Milwaukee, Ilyasova played 453 games, averaging 10.7 points and 6.0 rebounds, while shooting 37 percent from three. He was the ultimate professional, despite spending seemingly his whole tenure on the trading block and forged a very respectable, albeit inconsistent career in Milwaukee.

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While most fans seemingly loved to blame Ilyasova first for any losses or shortcomings the team would suffer, most ultimately warmed to him during his time in the team. Ilyasova, while certainly not a superstar in the normal sense, is a true cult hero of Milwaukee and should be remembered as such for years to come.