Ersan Ilyasova: 6’9” and 235 lbs, five-year pro
After a two-year hiatus from the NBA, the former second-round pick and NBA D-Leaguer returned to the club that drafted him. Expected to be a fixture on the back of the Bucks' bench before the season began, Ilyasova had Coach Skiles and his teammates taking notice early.
His two years of playing for the European club FC Barcelona helped his game grow and matured his approach.
He improved his previous career numbers in seven different categories, ranging from overall field goal percentage to total points per game. And though he played the seventh most minutes per game on the team, he finished second in rebounds per game and fifth in points per game.
He was the Bucks' third best player in their series versus the Atlanta Hawks this past season.
He posted a 48 FG percentage, 36 three-point percentage, 83 FT percentage, 10 PPG, and eight RPG.
It’s safe to say the Bucks have found themselves a keeper.
Luol Deng: 6’9” and 230 lbs, six-year pro
After a dismal past two seasons in which he battled injuries, Deng bounced back in a major way. He got back to his roots of being a dependable scorer as he upped his points per game average by more than three points per game from the previous season.
Though he missed 12 games due to injuries, the 70 he did play was some of his best basketball in three years. He provided a stabilizing focus for a team flooded with young talent and inexperience. It was none more apparent than in the playoff series versus the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers, when Deng averaged 19 points per game.
He will be entering his seventh season in the league and appears ready to attain his old title of top 10 NBA small forward.
Ilyasova is a 23-year-old on the rise in the NBA. His game is as versatile as any young small forward in the NBA not named Kevin Durant, Danny Granger, and Carmelo Anthony.
He excels in the hustle categories and the fact that he can contribute on offense without having his club actually run plays for him.
He trumps Deng in the defense categories like rebounding, steals, and shot blocking. He’s also more aggressive on this end of the floor and like Deng, he doesn’t back down in the presence of marquee names.
His range is also deeper and more consistent than that of Deng.
Deng trumps Ilyasova in scoring period. His low block and mid-range game is nothing at which to wrinkle your nose. The guy has three seasons of averaging 17 points or better and two additional seasons of 14 plus per game.
Deng falls behind Ilyasova in the department of athleticism. The young man is a just better athlete and hasn’t had the injury history that Deng has had.
This matchup is closer than most folks think. People will probably want to concede the edge to Deng because he averaged seven more points in 15 more minutes per game. Just keep in mind that Ilyasova outplayed Deng in three of their four meetings this season.
Deng is probably the better player because of his experience and his aggressiveness on offense, but the margin isn’t as great as you may think.
I personally think it's a matter of personal choice.
Plus, Deng's numbers are going to take a major hit with Boozer being on the roster, as Deng will go from being a second option to being a third option.