After the Bucks traded for Samuel Dalembert and used the No. 14 pick on John Henson, Milwaukee filled its biggest deficiency—a weak defense on the interior.
Last season, Milwaukee was fifth in the NBA in scoring, averaging 99.0 points per game. Normally, a team in the top five in scoring makes the playoffs, but that wasn’t the case for the 2011 Bucks. Instead, they were picking in the lottery.
Milwaukee’s legitimate offensive attack was held back by a defense that allowed 98.7 points per game, just 22nd in the NBA.
Dalembert will instantly upgrade the Bucks’ center position, and Henson will be asked to play significant minutes as a reserve in his rookie season.
Henson was never an elite scorer at North Carolina, but he averaged at least 11.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game in each of his last two seasons with the Tar Heels. His rebounding and shot-blocking ability will be counted upon to bolster the Bucks’ post defense immediately next season.
When Henson, a power forward, fell into Milwaukee’s lap with the 14th pick, many assumed that meant the end of unrestricted free agent Ersan Ilyasova’s tenure with the Bucks—but that may not be the case.
The Bucks have reportedly offered Ilyasova a five-year contract worth $40 million, which is a very reasonable deal for a player whose impact has come primarily off the bench.
**UPDATE: As of July 8th, the Bucks and Ersan Ilyasova have reportedly agreed on a five-year, $45 million contract.
Although Milwaukee’s starting five appears to be settled with the acquisition of Dalembert, who will solidify the center position, re-signing Ilyasova may very well be the difference between the Bucks fighting for a playoff spot or being a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference.
With center Andrew Bogut sidelined due to injury for much of last season before being traded to Golden State, Ilyasova started 41 of 60 games and enjoyed his best season as a professional. Averaging 13 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, Ilyasova quickly became the third scoring option for Milwaukee after its lightning quick backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.
While Ilyasova is officially listed as a power forward, his position is purely a technicality.
If he signs elsewhere, the Bucks starting five would almost certainly be Jennings and Ellis on the perimeter, with Luc Mbah-a-Moute and Drew Gooden at forward, and Dalembert at center.
But if Ilyasova returns to Milwaukee, he would either push Mbah-a-Moute for the starting job at small forward, or he’d be the Bucks’ top backup at both forward positions, providing an instant scoring punch whenever he’s called upon. Shooting 45 percent behind the arc last year with the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the hoop, Ilyasova is a versatile offensive player who is more than capable of playing either forward position.
As things currently stand, the Bucks don’t have much of a scoring punch on their bench. Veteran forward Mike Dunleavy is coming off a terrific 10th season in the NBA, in which he averaged 12.3 points per game off the bench. But at age 31, it remains to be seen whether he can be counted upon to play at a high level consistently.
Ilyasova, just 25 years old, is entering the prime of his career and only scratching the surface of his potential in the league. He showed flashes of stardom last season with the Bucks, one such time being his 29-point, 25-rebound effort in a 92-85 win over the Brooklynn Nets. Ilyasova registered 20 total double-doubles last season, and of eight those came in his last 13 appearances.
As expected, Milwaukee isn’t the only suitor for Ilyasova.
The Nets are trying to pair All-Star center Dwight Howard with their recently re-signed point guard Deron Williams. But if they’re unsuccessful, Ilyasova is thought to be their “fall-back” option.
Cleveland is also interested in Ilyasova, after the Cavs solidified their backcourt by adding Syracuse guard Dion Waiters to play alongside Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving.
It’s unclear who the favorite is to land Ilyasova’s services. They've already addressed their biggest team weakness, and Ilyasova's return to Milwaukee would make the Bucks a formidable opponent in the Eastern Conference playoffs.