Milwaukee Bucks: Breaking Down the Reasons Behind Ersan Ilyasova's Poor Start

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Milwaukee Bucks: Breaking Down the Reasons Behind Ersan Ilyasova's Poor Start
Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

It's been a brutal start to the season for Milwaukee Bucks' starting power forward Ersan Ilyasova, who has suddenly been replaced as a fan favorite by a backup center.

You have to go all the way back to July to find where the problems began. 

A bidding war for Ilyasova erupted during the summer free agency period, and the Bucks outbid the Brooklyn Nets, who were looking to sign the 25-year-old Turk if plans to bring in Dwight Howard failed to materialize.

The price for the restricted free agent's services was $40 million over five years, which some considered to be quite a commitment to a player with only one legitimate season under his belt.

Ilyasova had become a double-double machine for Milwaukee, averaging 13 points and 8.8 rebounds a contest in just over 25 minutes of play a night. He displayed consistency from outside, hitting 45.5 percent of his three-point attempts, making him a viable asset as a power forward by luring big men away from the basket to respect his shot.

Those are pretty solid numbers for a player considered to be the third best player on his team, but what has happened to Ilyasova early on in the 2012-13 season?

His numbers have dropped dramatically through the team's first six games, as Ilyasova has scuffled from beyond the arc and the field in general, failing to come close to his 2011-12 numbers despite playing roughly the same amount of minutes.

The biggest reason behind Ilyasova's poor play is his confidence—or lack there of.

It's evident in his demeanor on the court, especially when he pulls up for a jumper. Ilyasova features a very unique shot where he kicks his legs outward and cocks the ball up above his head before releasing, which means a lot has to go right for his slow-developing shot to work.

Benny Sieu-US PRESSWIRE
Larry has been stealing Ersan's thunder as of late.

It's not as if the basket hasn't been readily accessible. Ilyasova has had countless open looks, and despite a career 44.2 field goal percentage, he doesn't have the confidence in his shot to pull the trigger as often as he should.

His self-assurance and shooting go hand in hand, according to head coach Scott Skiles (via Jeremy Schmidt, bucksketball.com):

Sometimes the best thing to do is leave him alone and let him work himself out of it. He gets in his head a little bit. But he’s shooting the ball and his feet are moving and he’s drifting all over the place, things like that. He’s just not real solid with it right now.

Skiles went on to say that he can't let his poor shooting get in the way of other aspects of his game, but he has done just that.

Ilyasova's is down to 5.5 boards per game, including just over one offensive rebound a contest, but that could partially be attributed of the recent changes the Bucks made, bringing in a legitimate center in Samuel Dalembert and increasing the playing time of big men Ekpe Udoh and Larry Sanders.

Either way, put-backs are a huge source of Ilyasova's scoring, and only grabbing one offensive board a game doesn't give him too many opportunities to score.

Not only that, but Ilyasova's free-throw percentage is an abysmal 41.7 percent, highlighting that his struggles shooting the ball have translated to the charity stripe.

His greatest trait is his hustle, and if Ilyasova is too distracted by his inability to put the ball in the basket, he'll allow it to leak into the rest of his game. Perhaps that explains why Ilyasova hasn't been a force grabbing loose balls, taking charges and defending and rebounding around the basket.

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The massive paycheck Ilyasova gets in the mail also needs to be taken into account. Ilyasova has shown to be on the fragile side mentally, and there is likely added pressure to live up to the contract he received in the offseason.

Who knows? Maybe being appointed the new head of the Bucks' cheering section has also toyed with Ersan's mind.

So what does Ilyasova need to do to snap out of his funk?

Basically, Ilyasova has to block himself out of his own mind. In attempting to out-perform his numbers from last season, he is hopelessly falling short. The four-year pro clearly has the desire and the skill set to succeed in the NBA, but he also needs to have the right frame of thought.

With how many open looks Ilyasova has managed to get this season, the shots are going to start falling. Opposing teams have to respect the outside game of Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and Mike Dunleavy, three players that are often on the court at the same time as Ilyasova.

That, coupled with the dicey proposition of Ersan's defender making his way out to the perimeter, should continue to leave Ilyasova with several open looks. It doesn't necessarily mean Ilyasova should chuck it up every time he finds himself in space, but the unnecessary pump fakes are getting a little old.

Improved play will lead to improved minutes, and that should translate to more attractive numbers for the 6'10" forward. 

The aforementioned backup center? His name is Larry Sanders, and despite Ilyasova carrying on the legacy of Andrew Bogut's Squad 6, his own cheering squad has left him for the Colonel. 

Ilyasova can win back Sector 7—and the rest of the Milwaukee Bucks' fan base—by having confidence in his basketball abilities, and blocking out both outside and inside distractions. 

With that, Ilyasova will be back, and chants of "ER-SAN! ER-SAN!" will soon accompany those of "LAR-RY! LAR-RY!.

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