Sixers Apology Letters: Ersan Ilyasova

I said I’m sorry Ersan! I never meant to hurt you!

Here at Liberty Ballers, we are all about accountability. With another season in the books, we’ll take a look at some of our past opinions and reexamine our feelings in the light of new and more recent evidence. Because it’s okay to change your mind about something if you have a good reason for doing so!

With all due respect to the deals that sent away Process favorite Chu Chu Maduabum and Kendall Marshall, the acquisition of Ersan Ilyasova was the first major trade of the Bryan Colangelo era. As a loyal parishioner in the church of Hinkie, I was looking at every Colangelo move with a very skeptical eye (still do!). Still, sending Jerami Grant to Oklahoma City for Ersan Ilyasova and a top-20 protected future first round pick (later used to grab Anzejs Pasecniks in a draft night trade with Orlando) was a move that made a lot of sense. Grant had never really put everything together in Philadelphia, and Ilyasova was billed as a guy who would help space the floor and expedite the development of rookie center Joel Embiid. To top things off, Colangelo got a not-fake first round pick as well. Good deal!

The move even worked out as anticipated. Ilyasova and Embiid meshed well together, and the Sixers were much more successful when Ersan was on the court. Ilyasova shot 35.9% from three in his 53 games in Philadelphia during the 2016-17 season, and led the NBA with 36 drawn charges on the year.

Yet, despite his objectively being a net positive for the team, everything about Ersan’s game irked me. Ilyasova ranked second on the team in field goal attempts/game, a fact which seemed completely pointless considering we were dealing with a lottery-bound, rebuilding team and a 29-year-old who would be gone at the end of the season. Considering he only trailed Embiid, who played just 31 games, you could say Ilyasova was the leading shot-taker on the team. I viewed it as blatant chucking and stat-mongering by a guy in a contract year. Now, while it was entirely rational from his perspective and I’ll never really hate on a guy for trying to get his money, the situation nearly became a Liz Lemon-esque Dealbreaker for me.

As for the charges, I believe they annoyed me as a residual effect of watching Marreese Speights constantly loafing on defense in a Sixers uniform years ago. He would then go out of his way to occasionally take a charge and act like that washed away all of his past sins (Speights was second in the NBA behind Ilyasova last season). It became the “showiest” form of defense in my mind.

Finally, I saw Ilyasova as taking minutes away from Dario Saric, who I had taken an immediate liking to (as any reasonable person would). After the team traded Ersan away for soon-to-be-retired Tiago Splitter’s expiring contract and goodies, and Dario flourished in his newly obtained starting role, my irritation seemed justified.

So in late February when the team was rumored to be bringing back Ilyasova once he was bought out by Atlanta, my eyebrow was raised. However, this second go-round in Philadelphia for the Turkish forward was an eye-opening experience. While high-volume Ersan on a bad team annoyed me, I found role player Ersan on a good team to be very enjoyable.

This season, Ilyasova was just 7th on the team in FGA/game, an entirely reasonable place for him! Once again, he was effective during his time on the court, sporting the 4th-best net rating on the team (9.1). His shooting prowess became even more valuable with the new wrinkle employed by Brett Brown this season of using Ersan as a smallball center. Lineups featuring both Ilyasova and Saric had an outstanding 15.0 net rating in 83 minutes together.

Plus, unlike his fellow former Hawk Marco Belinelli, any defensive deficiencies for Ilyasova with him doing a credible job banging around down low against a larger opponent. I even find his charges endearing now. Ilyasova was second in the NBA this season with 32 charges drawn (behind Kyle Lowry) and drew 3 more in the playoffs. Strangely, I began to view those plays as momentum swingers that fired up the Wells Fargo Center crowd. It seemed like there were moments when people grew to anticipate a “big charge” coming.

Ersan, I apologize for my negative feelings towards you last season. After the Sixers nab a big fish in the free agent market, if they want to use part of a mid-level exception to have you return to Philadelphia, I will welcome you back with open arms.

All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.

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