Thursday, June 11, 2015

Pistons Acquire Ersan Ilyasova

In a move that essentially came out of left field, the Pistons have turned the nonguaranteed contracts of Caron Butler and Shawne Williams into Milwaukee Bucks PF Ersan Ilyasova.  Ilyasova has had injury issues over the last two years, but from what he's shown when healthy and on the floor, his game fits the Pistons' needs perfectly.  A superb outside shooter (two down years aside), Ilyasova is hopefully the stretch four this offense requires.  At 28 years old and with only one fully guaranteed year remaining on his contract, the Pistons will have a year to determine if Ilyasova can contribute to the team's rebuild in a positive way.  If he can help, great; if he can't, the team missed out on a little bit of cap space this summer, but they otherwise move on with no long-term effects.  On the surface, this is the kind of trade that fits the team's direction perfectly.  The move, in my eyes, almost certainly signals an end to Greg Monroe's time with the franchise, a move that is probably best for both parties.  This trade has other effects on what the front office is going to do this summer, and what the team is going to look like come opening night.  Let's dive into what those effects are going to be, and how Ilyasova can factor into the team's plans for the 2015-16 season.


At one point it looked like Ilyasova was going to be a key piece for the Bucks franchise, as he signed a five year, $40 million dollar deal the summer that he turned 24, following a solid 2011-12 season.  In the first three years of his current deal with the Bucks, Ilyasova bounced around from useful, to injured, to horribly inefficient.  That time span included four different Bucks head coaches, none of which particularly catered to Ilyasova's style of play the way that Stan Van Gundy is about to.  He also never played with another frontcourt player who can change the game the way that Andre Drummond can, sparing a brief 12 games with Andrew Bogut.  Paired with the likes of Larry Sanders, Zaza Pachulia, Samuel Dalembert and Miroslav Raduljica, Ilyasova has never teamed up with a player who commands the attention of a defense in the paint.  Even though Drummond isn't the back-to-the-basket player that the previous sentence implies, he certainly commands a defense's attention in the pick-and-roll, which figures to be a staple of the Piston offense.  Should Stan Van Gundy choose to simply place Ilyasova in the corner or on the weakside wing to keep the opposing defense honest for Reggie Jackson-Andre Drummond pick-and-rolls, both Ilyasova and the team should profit.

The reason that setup would work for both parties is that Ilyasova has generally been one of the best outside shooting big men in the league throughout his seven year NBA career.  With the exception of two down years where he shot below 30%, Ilyasova has been a tremendously efficient outside shooter, with a career average at 37% from beyond the arc.  His overall production on the offensive end of the floor is mildly encouraging:

Ersan Ilyasova
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3PAr
3P%
AST%
TRB%
FTr
FT%
DRtg
2011-12
13.0
20.5
20.1%
57.7%
.188
45.5%
7.0%
17.6%
.307
78.1%
103
2012-13
13.2
18.3
20.5%
55.2%
.267
44.4%
9.6%
13.9%
.196
79.6%
104
2013-14
11.2
13.8
21.3%
48.6%
.226
28.2%
8.4%
13.3%
.225
82.3%
111
2014-15
11.5
16.8
22.1%
55.4%
.341
38.9%
7.4%
12.0%
.192
64.5%
103
Career
10.7
16.3
20.7%
53.3%
.280
37.0%
7.8%
14.2%
.224
77.6%
105

The one thing that definitely stands out here is his major down year shooting the ball in 2013-14.  That's the risk with Ilyasova; if he isn't connecting from outside, he's not going to give you efficient offense.  He doesn't shoot well enough inside the arc or get to the free throw line enough to cancel out a poor shooting season.  On that same note, he doesn't really do anything above average outside of shooting the ball, with the lone exception of the way he rebounded the ball during the 2011-12 campaign.  That season was fueled by a reduced 3PAr, which helped produce an OReb% of 12.7%, which is about 1.5 times his career average.  He's a decent passer for a PF, but it would be a stretch to say he's going to help you facilitate the offense.  While it's clear from his overall scoring, in terms of PPG, that he can't be your first or second option, I think you can win games with Ilyasova as one of your secondary scorers.  It's hard to say where he'll fit in this coming season, but you'd have to think his Usage Rate won't change much in the move to Detroit.  If any change occurs, maybe he sees a slight reduction if the team picks up a useful SF and KCP develops his offensive game.

The offensive play-type statistics for Ilyasova suggest some troubling things, but also confirm that Ilyasova absolutely can fill the role that the Pistons will most likely place him in:

Ersan Ilyasova
Possessions
Pts. per Poss.
NBA Rank
Isolation
0
N/A
N/A
PnR Roll-Man
88
0.76
71/76
Post-Up
21
0.86
N/A
Spot-Up
216
1.06
28/71
Cut
78
1.05
70/79

To reiterate here, the ranking is based on players with approximately as many or more possessions in the category than the subject, Ilyasova.  Overall, it looks like Ilyasova isn't elite in any category, but that's not exactly 100% true.  Among players with as many spot-up possessions or more, only four PFs or Cs posted better spot-up PPP than Ilyasova.  That's very encouraging, because the Pistons essentially gave up nothing in return for one of the best spot-up big men in the league.  It is pretty funny to see that the Bucks didn't run a single iso possession for Ilyasova, but it shouldn't be concerning.  What is a bit troubling is that Ilyasova didn't perform better as the PnR roll-man.  I don't get to watch a whole lot of Ilyasova, so I'll throw in this caveat: The middling efficiency in PnR situations is less troubling if he spent more time rolling to the basket than popping out to the perimeter.  I have a feeling that the issue is the way Jason Kidd used him, but it's hard to say exactly by just looking at the numbers.  In Detroit, I'm confident that he'll be used mostly as a pop man, because Detroit has one of the better roll-men in the game already in tow in Andre Drummond.

The defensive play-type stats suggest that Ilyasova isn't going to do much to improve a mediocre 2014-15 Pistons defense:

Ersan Ilyasova
Possessions
PPP Allowed
NBA Rank
Isolation
45
0.71
41/200
PnR Roll-Man
32
1.44
112/112
Post-Up
94
0.86
45/71
Spot-Up
128
1.08
140/162
The one area where you think the fairly mobile Ilyasova would succeed (closing out on shooters) is one of his worst categories.  You can try to write off his struggles against the pick-and-roll or in isolation situations by arguing that the numbers come in a small sample size.  You can't do that with his spot-up struggles.  He was legitimately awful defending against pending shooters during the 2014-15 season.  That should be a caution point to watch for during the upcoming season, and may cause SVG to get creative late in games if Ilyasova can't hold his own defensively against another team's stretch four.

With all things considered, I'm excited about the Ilyasova acquisition.  The Pistons essentially gave up nothing of value for a player who will most likely start and do so adequately for the team in 2015-16.  He's an ideal fit for Stan Van Gundy's offense if his outside shot is falling, and should help improve the quality of the offense as a whole through effectively playing his style.  If things don't work out, as mentioned above, the Pistons didn't really give anything up for him other than cap space, and they can simply release him next summer and eat a very small portion of what he's owed.  Usually you look for a move's reward to be somewhat in-line with its risk.  This move feels like it has a moderate return with minimal risk; that's what you really want your front office to go for at this stage of a rebuild.

Considered in this move's risk/cost is the effect that it has on the rest of the Pistons' off-season.  The first thing that comes to mind is that Greg Monroe is almost certainly out the door after this acquisition.  With Anthony Tolliver offering a good low-cost option off the bench, it wouldn't make any sense to spend big money on Monroe, who doesn't fit the team's style of play nearly as well as Ilyasova and would cost almost twice as much.  The PF position should be set, with any other additions at the position likely being of the low-key variety.  However, I wouldn't completely rule out making a big splash at the position just because of the Ilyasova deal.  Considering his contract situation, Ilyasova could perfectly bridge the gap if the Pistons were to draft a young PF with the 8th (or whatever 1st round pick they end up with) pick.  Actually, I would feel much more comfortable picking Kristaps Porzingis at #8 now.  There's absolutely zero pressure for any PF taken in the first round to play in the first two years if he's not ready.  If a drafted PF is ready right away, you offer Ilyasova the option to move to the bench, or cut him loose.  That's great flexibility to have going into a pivotal offseason.

The Ilyasova acquisition also means that the Pistons will be able to focus the full amount of their cap space this summer (around $18M after the move, assuming Monroe is renounced) on their other needs at the SF position and the backup C spot.  What seemed like a summer that could see the Pistons go out and pay for two starters at the forward spots is now one where Detroit can hone in on a big-name SF if they so choose.  With a long list of names they could target, from Khris Middleton (probably not happening after this move) to Danny Green to Tobias Harris or DeMarre Carroll, if the Pistons want to break the bank to upgrade the SF position, they can now do so without having to hold money over to grab a starting PF.  You'll never accurately predict an offseason, but here's what the Pistons could do now that they've added Ilyasova:
  • 8th pick: G/F Mario Hezonja
  • 38th pick: PF Richaun Holmes
  • Sign G/F Danny Green - 4 years, $40 million
  • Sign C Bismack Biyombo - 3 years, $15 million
  • Sign C Greg Smith - 2 years, $2 million
None of those moves are completely impossible, although it ultimately may be hard to pull Green away from San Antonio.  Regardless, the point here is that the face of the Pistons' offseason is now almost certain to be a big name SF, unless they choose to pocket some of their cap space.  I would be shocked if that were the case.  For fun's sake, here's what the depth chart would look like after the above offseason:

Position
1st
2nd
3rd
PG
Reggie Jackson
Brandon Jennings
Spencer Dinwiddie
SG
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Jodie Meeks
Cartier Martin
SF
Danny Green
Mario Hezonja
Quincy Miller
PF
Ersan Ilyasova
Anthony Tolliver
Richaun Holmes
C
Andre Drummond
Bismack Biyombo
Greg Smith

That lineup isn't challenging for a top spot in the Eastern Conference, but it's a nice start and you have a ton of options going forward to improve the roster.  If KCP has truly plateaued, you move Danny Green back to SG and hand the SF keys over to Hezonja if he's shown some potential.  If he hasn't, you still move Green to SG and start from square one at the 3-spot.  If KCP does continue to develop, and Hezonja shows his ceiling, you have an embarrassment of riches on the wings.  Ilyasova isn't locked in at PF in any way, but should be serviceable enough to keep if they need to.  Is that lineup really incapable of making the playoffs in the Eastern Conference?  I'd say that's set up for around a .500 finish, assuming Hezonja shows a little bit of something in his backup minutes.  

It was a somewhat surprising move, but the Pistons are definitely better for acquiring Ersan Ilyasova today.  While the move makes sense from the narrow view, it also makes sense from a big picture standpoint.  The team retained the majority of their offseason flexibility, solved a position of need for the time-being and have no long-term commitment to the player they just acquired if he doesn't click.  I don't know if Stan Van Gundy was explicitly behind the move, but it feels to me like he's got this front office thing figured out.  In just one year as team president, SVG has overhauled the talent on the roster, mostly doing so in creative, low-cost ways.  The Ilyasova for Butler/Williams trade is just the latest piece of evidence that it's okay to trust in the Pistons' management again, and should help build excitement for the rest of the summer.

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