Ersan Ilyasova’s European Demand
Ersan Ilyasova was only 18-years-old when the Milwaukee Bucks drafted him in the second round back in 2005. The Turkish star had debuted for Ulkerspor in Istanbol Turkey when he was just 15-years-old and had played in Turkey’s national basketball program since 2003, but after two years earning the NBA minimum salary, Ilyasova decided Barcelona looked better. After two more years in Europe, the Bucks re-signed the Turkish big man to a three-year, $6.9 million contract, a contract that expires at the end of this season. This time, the now 24-year-old Ilyasova will be an unrestricted free agent and he wants a better deal.
“When I look at it I have to remember that it’s a business,” said Ilyasova. “Some teams overseas wanted to buyout my contract but I wanted to finish this season in the NBA. This is where I want to be right now, but we will see what happens in the future. Financially, whoever pays me more will be the team that I decide to sign with.”
As if to make a point, Ilyasova signed with Anadolu Efes in Turkey during the NBA lockout and has since made it clear the team wanted him to spend the entire season there. Further, as many as five teams have inquired as to his availability recently. The attraction of playing in Europe shouldn’t come as a surprise; the amount of money an average NBA player can make is not always that much different than the top European clubs can pay.
“The last couple years it has been getting closer,” said Ilyasova. “When you look at taxes in the United States, you have to pay a higher percent of your salary to taxes. In Europe it’s based on each country. When you look at the superstars in the NBA, they’re getting paid much more than the European superstars, but when you look at the mid-level players it’s almost the same.”
While it is understandable players from the US college system often find playing in Europe something of a culture shock, it can be equally tough on young Europeans coming to North America.
“It is very different,” explained Ilyasova. “When we travel we travel different. Overseas, when you stay in a hotel and you have a roommate. You also spend more time together when you are traveling. You have team lunches and team dinners. In the NBA, when you travel you go by yourself, everyone stays in separate rooms. When you look at the European league it’s much better for getting to know the guys on your team.
“You also play twice a week. You have more time to work on your game and more time to practice. Now, with the lockout, the NBA season is so quick and you end up playing four games a week, which is hard.”
In his first stint with the Bucks, Ilyasova spent a season with Tulsa in the d-league followed by limited minutes in limited games the next year in Milwaukee. The current trip to the NBA saw a more mature Ilyasova get regular minutes and make a solid contribution to his team right from the start, but two plus years later his minutes are down slightly despite apparent opportunities due to Andrew Bogut’s injury and some recent record setting rebounding efforts.
Ilyasova is actually leading his team with a 185 rebounds this season and has grabbed at least one offensive board in 15 consecutive games. On January 25, he pulled down a career high 19 rebounds in 28 minutes off the bench in Houston.
“He is just finding a niche to find the ball off the rim, rebounds and tapping it over to himself,” said Larry Sanders. “He is really good at that. It has allowed him to get more opportunities for offensive put-backs and rebounds in general. He has really focused in on that this year and it’s paying off for him.”
“Usually rebounding is about who brings the most energy,” said Ilyasova. “It’s all about who wants the ball more. I basically just go up there and do something positive like bringing energy. I try and do something every game to help my team win the game.”
Not everything has been going Ilyasova’s way this season however. New teammates, playing more minutes as an undersized center and fewer shots per game have impacted his productivity on the offensive end of the floor. A respectable three-pointer shooter, Ilyasova is averaging one fewer three-point attempt per game than his career average and his overall shooting percentage has dropped slightly.
“When I’m out on the floor it doesn’t matter if I’m playing the four or the five, I can guard both of those positions. For me it’s all about being aggressive enough to guard centers even if they’re bigger than I am. We’re a pretty new team with a lot of new players so we struggled in the beginning but as soon as we started adjusting to each other’s games we started to play much better.
“Because we have a new team with a lot of new players and we’ve had to adjust to each other this season I’ve been struggling with making shots. I have to work on my mid-range and my three pointers. I was shooting much better last year and so I’ve been concentrating on improving my game and working hard.”
Over his past 10 games, Ilyasova has been averaging 10.1 points and 9.6 rebounds in less than 24 minutes per game but his increased productivity hasn’t earned him a return to the starting line-up. Ilyasova hasn’t started since early January and consistency in his minutes is very important to him.
“At one point I was in the starting lineup but it’s not really important for me. For me I just want to get consistent minutes and when I get those minutes I try and produce for the betterment of the team. As long as the team is winning and I’m being aggressive I am satisfied.”
A double-double big man can usually command a significant NBA contract in free agency and it is easy to understand why the big European clubs have their sights set on him for the coming season, but Ilyasova isn’t getting ahead of himself.
“Right now I can’t really think about the contract stuff. If I concentrate on that stuff it’s going to affect my game. When I step out on the floor I just try to play basketball and I just think about what’s going to happen in that game. I think it’s important to concentrate on the game and the other things will come easy for me.”
This summer Ilyasova will have the option to decide whether to return to the more comfortable environment of European basketball or hold out for a potentially bigger pay day from a NBA club looking to add a double-double big man who has been adding an inside game to his three-point threat. At just 24-years-old, Ilyasova should intrigue some NBA team with his potential to continue to improve and land that significant contract. If not, expect to find this Turkish prospect plying his trade in Europe next season.