In spite of can be a good thing, if the outcomes are happy even when the inputs are sad. And for a while, the Milwaukee Bucks were doing just fine in spite of Ersan Ilyasova.
But Milwaukee’s 6-2 start was turned into a 6-4 mark after road losses this week at Charlotte and at Miami. Now the Bucks face a home-and-home test against their Central Division rivals, the Chicago Bulls. And Ilyasova is running out of cover, it not quite time.
He was, after all, a big-expenditure guy for a team that doesn’t make big expenditures readily. Milwaukee re-signed Ilyasova when he hit free agency, committing to the 6-foot-9 forward in a five-year, $40 million deal. It was based as much on potential as performance, earned by what Ilyasova did last season (enough of a bump in scoring, rebounding and 3-point accuracy to finish second in Most Improved balloting) and by the promise that held with him in a bigger role.
Trouble is, Ilyasova’s role so far in 2012-13 is smaller, not bigger. His impact is too, according to Charles F. Gardner’s story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Ilyasova’s numbers are way down across the board through the first 10 games, all as a starter. He is shooting 31.3% overall and just 25% from three-point range and 42.9% on his free throws. He is playing 22.5 minutes per game and averaging 6.3 points and 4.7 rebounds.
In 60 games last season he played 27.6 minutes per game and averaged 13 points and 8.8 rebounds while shooting 49.2% overall.
“The main thing is I can’t find my rhythm yet,” Ilyasova said. “We’ve got a lot of big guys. Coach has tried a lot of rotations. It’s not the same as it was last year.
“We had just three or four guys last year and we knew our minutes. It was kind of stable.”
The Bucks, particularly coach Scott Skiles, aren’t about to apologize for stiffer competition up front. They were seriously undermanned last season after center Andrew Bogut got hurt in January and traded in March, and with added size have boosted their rebounding and shot-blocking production. Larry Sanders, Samuel Dalembert, Ekpe Udoh and rookie John Henson have pushed Drew Gooden, the veteran thrown into duty at center in Bogut’s absence, completely to the bench. Meanwhile, Ilyasova shooting and bouts of tentativeness have him spending more time there, too.
It’s early still, and Ilyasova – never the most forceful at asserting himself – might grow his game with a few encouraging stats lines. For the moment, though, he is in that funky class of player such as Chicago’s Carlos Boozer and Indiana’s Roy Hibbert (to name only two) who gets paid more yet produces less. The season unspools too quickly to wait around for guys like that, and even when their coaches seem to forget about them, their team’s fans generally don’t.
And if the team falters, in spite of can become an ugly because of rather quickly.