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#ThunderRank: No. 8 – Ersan Ilyasova

#ThunderRank: No. 8 – Ersan Ilyasova
#ThunderRank – A look at the top 17 players for the Thunder and how their seasons might shake outPlayer Summary

When the Oklahoma City Thunder made the trade that brought Victor Oladipo and the rights to Domantas Sabonis over to OKC, many thought Ersan Ilyasova’s inclusion in the trade was for salary matching purposes only. Ilyasova was in the final year of a contract that would pay him $8.4 million in the next season, but only $400,000 of that salary was guaranteed if he was waived by July 1st, 2016. With cap space at a premium, many thought the Thunder would cut Ilyasova and use that saved money to not only re-sign Durant, but also Dion Waiters.

As midnight passed on July 1st, the Thunder made the decision to keep Ilyasova (and his full salary) on the roster. With the Thunder owning the Bird rights to both Durant and Waiters, it really didn’t matter how much money they were over the cap/tax line if they truly wanted to re-sign them. If anything, Ilyasova would go into the season as a back-up stretch four for the team or as a sizable trade chip for future transactions.

But then the bottom fell out of that whole “re-sign Durant and Waiters” plan on July 4th when Durant signed with the Warriors. And with that, three of the Thunder’s top five 3-point shooters were gone, if you also included Ibaka. The move to keep Ilyasova was likely a “break glass in case of emergency” move, and ultimately, the emergency did occur.

Now the question becomes: how does Ilyasova fit with the new look Thunder? It’s a question that will be asked over and over again this preseason. In a possible starting line-up that is bereft of 3-point shooting, Ilyasova would immediately become the de facto floor space. But he’s also a liability on the defensive end of the floor. If you’ve seen any of his highlights, you know he’s not very athletic. He reminds me a lot of a Turkish Dirk Nowitzki, in that he has a great jump shot, but also in that he has that weird gait where his legs look like they are in sand while on the court.

2015-16 Statistics

74 GP, 25.4 mins, 10.4 pts, 5.4 rebs, 0.9 asts, 0.7 stls, 42.4% FG, 37.1% 3pt FG, 72.1% FT

Best-Case Scenario

There will be high consideration for Ilyasova to start due to his floor spacing ability. The hope is that in a line-up with Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, and Victor Oladipo, Ilyasova’s deficiencies on the defensive end will be muted. Offensively, though, I think Ilyasova will work wonders with Russell Westbrook. In watching film of his time in Detroit, Ilyasova was one of Reggie Jackson’s favorite targets through the pick and pop. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he developed the same type of chemistry with Westbrook.

With the amount of pressure Westbrook and Oladipo will put on the interior of defenses, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for Ilyasova to have one of the best years of his career. And even if he doesn’t start, Ilyasova will likely be key for the spacing of many line-ups, especially those at the end of games.

Worst-Case Scenario

The worst-case scenario for Ilyasova is if his defense prevents him from contributing much on the floor. If you notice a pattern with a lot of the Thunder big men, you are not wrong. Ilyasova, Lauvergne, and Enes Kanter are all good to great offensive players. But for as good as they are on that side of the floor, they are just as bad on the opposite end of the floor. Having 2 of the 3 of them on the floor at the same time would be disastrous against good teams. The key is finding instances where all three of them can shine at separate times of the game, while limiting their negative effects on the defensive end of the floor.

Another negative effect of Ilyasova struggling would be a decline in his trade value. While Ilyasova won’t necessarily fetch you a big fish, he does have value around the league as a floor spacer. If potential suitors notice that he is struggling to stay on the floor, any potential deal for him will be severely marginalized.

Percentage he gets traded sometime during the season:

80% – Ilyasova has a skill many NBA teams need, especially playoff teams. He has a sizable expiring contract and is regarded as being a good locker room guy. Getting a lower end first rounder is not outside the realm of possibility for Ilyasova. Even though the Thunder are also in need of shooting, they also may want to build up their asset chest for the next upcoming offseason.

Ilyasova’s Season Preview

I do believe Ilyasova will start for this team for the first half of the season. He provides the first team with a modicum of space it needs to operate. He’ll likely be the beneficiary of many a 1-4 pick and pop. And he’ll have his struggles on the defensive end, especially with small-ball teams. But I also see the team leaning more towards playing rookie Domantas Sabonis as the year progresses and using Ilyasova’s expiring contract as the bait to collect necessary assets for the future.