The transformation has been nothing less than stunning.
After a rather shaky start, Ersan Ilyasova’s season has suddenly and dramatically turned around.
The 25-year-old Ilyasova, who signed a four-year, $31.6 million contract over the summer — with a team option for $8.4 million for the 2016-’17 season — sputtered out of the gate this season.
His production was down and so were his minutes. Then Bucks coach Scott Skiles seemingly had little faith in him. In fact, during the 32 games Skiles coached the Bucks this season, he played Ilyasova more than 27 minutes on just four occasions. Furthermore, there were 15 games — or virtually half of them — in which Ilyasova played 22 or fewer minutes.
Ilyasova didn’t publicly express his disdain, but there was little doubt he was unhappy. His perpetual glum demeanor spoke volumes.
Ilyasova had a different look on his face on Jan. 8, though. That’s when the Bucks hierarchy fired Skiles and replaced him with his top assistant Jim Boylan.
It didn’t take long for Boylan to have some frank discussions with his players.
“I told Ersan we have a strong backcourt, but we need more than that,” Boylan said. “We need guys up front contributing. Larry Sanders is doing what he does well and Ersan needs to do what he does best and that’s making his perimeter shots, stretching the floor, being active on the glass and playing with a lot of heart and desire. Ersan can do all those things.”
Ilyasova’s forte, though, is shooting. He can be a lethal shooter on the perimeter. But his shot wasn’t falling early in the season and it was apparent Ilyasova’s confidence took a dip as well.
Boylan addressed the issue, giving Ilyasova a pep talk in an attempt to get him back on track.
“I told Ersan I have a lot of confidence in him when he’s taking his shots,” Boylan said. “I have no problem with them, whether they go in or they don’t.”
Boylan’s vote of confidence in Ilyasova is paying huge dividends. Since Boylan assumed the coaching reins, Ilyasova has shot 47 percent from the field and a white-hot 51 percent from 3-point range. In that same 10-game span under Boylan, Ilyasova is averaging 15.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 28.3 minutes.
While those numbers are nice, his numbers in the last four games are off the charts: 25.5 points, 12.2 rebounds, 55 percent shooting and 63 percent 3-point shooting.
Oh, and one other not-so-insignificant number: 34. That’s his minutes average for the last four games.
Ilyasova’s sterling play has been one of the key reasons why the Bucks are surging, why they are 23-19 and why they have won seven of 10 games with Boylan at the controls.
Boylan fully realizes what an important piece Ilyasova is to the Bucks’ puzzle and has made a concerted effort to be on the same page with him. Boylan said he will often talk to Ilyasova at practice or after games.
“Another thing I said to Ersan was that I want him to get back to playing with all of his energy that he played with last year,” Boylan said. “And he’s done that.
“It’s all coming together for him and, hopefully, he can continue the way he’s been playing. I think he knows how I feel about him and the impact he has on our team, which is significant.”