What in the Ghostface Would the Wizards Trade for Ersan Ilyasova?
The rumor started on the good ol’ radio. Via Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal-Times on Milwaukee’s SportsRadio 1250:
“Well, if they move (Ilyasova), it’s going to be a major move, because Ersan’s value is definitely pretty high. And one of the rumors, and I repeat RUMOR, all capital letters here—is that Washington might have some interest in Ilyasova and another Bucks’ player for the #3.”
Woelfel, clearly being of an old school ilk, did not “tweet” this rumor out via his Twitter account (@GeryWoelfel). That said, Woelfel hasn’t tweeted in the month of June and his account bio currently states: “Live updates from the Las Vegas Summer League and the latest in Free Agency.”
But, as Twitter is wont to do, radio news went viral on his verbal ALL CAPS, starting with @rsatjr34:
@SamAmicoFSO Hey Sam, Gery Woelfel said on the radio that there's a rumor of Ilyasova to Washington for the 3rd pick. Have you heard of this
— Robbie Satraitis Jr (@TINYROBJR) June 8, 2013
Sam Amico of Fox Sports and other part ’round the web—and known pasta-to-wall slinger—confirmed the exploration:
Yes, heard it's been explored. RT @rsatjr34: Gery Woelfel said on radio there's rumor of Ilyasova to WAS for 3rd pick. Have you heard this?
— Sam Amico (@SamAmicoFSO) June 8, 2013
And then a reasonable caveat via Amico: “Wild guess: 50-50. It’d be more than just Ilyasova for 3rd pick. Others would be involved.”
Wild guess: 50-50. It'd be more than just Ilyasova for 3rd pick. Others would be involved. RT @rsatjr34: odds Ilyasova-to-Wiz may happen?
— Sam Amico (@SamAmicoFSO) June 8, 2013
But could this really happen? Let’s patronize it because:
A) I’ve long been somewhat fond the 6-foot-9 Ilyasova’s game.
B) Ilyasova is a great shooter, a “pick-and-pop” 4 like John Wall wants. He’s also a damn good rebounder. His tenacity has bested the Wizards on several occasions; Ghostface has out-hustled the likes of Kevin Seraphin, Chris Singleton, JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche, and more. There’s no denying that a player like Ilyasova would fit well in Washington. Which begs the question: why didn’t the Wizards try to go after him last summer when he was an unrestricted free agent? The other side of that argument: what’s that got to do with the moves the Wizards need to make for the future? Ilyasova was a fit last summer, he could be a fit this summer.
But… At what cost?
C) Ilyasova is not a great one-on-one defender, as K.L. Chouinard highlights in this post on BehindTheBuckPass.com, but does have the intelligence for position defense. I’ve certainly seen his issues closing out on the perimeter as even the slowest of player jets past him, but he’s also the type of hustle player who won’t back down.
So I’ll disagree with Chouinard calling Larry Sanders the “league’s best defender in the paint,” in consideration of how he says that paints Ilyasova’s defense in a poorer light. Sanders has got Roy Hibbert in front of him, at least. I’ll concede that Sanders is a top-of-the-line defender in the making, and his numbers are very good, but just a capture of the full picture. The research of Kirk Goldsberry and Eric Weiss point to Sanders as the best “proximal FG% defender” in the league, only allowing opponents to shoot 34.9 percent within five feet. Worth noting: Andrea Bargnani ranks second to Sanders allowing 35.2 percent for the Toronto Raptors. Hibbert ranks fifth at 38.7 percent.
Looking at Defensive Rating (points allowed per 48 minutes), out of those who played at least 65 games last season, Hibbert’s 95.6 ranked seventh best in the NBA. Tony Allen ranked first (94.3) and Sanders ranked 3oth (98.8), speaking more expansively to Hibbert’s ability to anchor a team defense from the paint (and playing for a good defensive team), as opposed to a select area within the paint (the Bucks were also a good defensive team). An important question to add to the numbers is if Sanders, with just three years of NBA experience, has a fully developed veteran defensive awareness, communication, and discipline.1 Even so, Sanders is probably more “the future of the NBA” than JaVale McGee.2
2 This is a digression into a Hibbert vs. Sanders debate, but my point is that Ilyasova's defense shouldn't necessarily be considered worse simply because Sanders, a very good defender, was backing him up in the paint.]
The point is, Ilyasova is right for the Wizards with the exception of defense. But, he can’t be that much worse of a defender than Ryan Anderson (fourth-worst NBA Def. Rtg. at 110.1 out of 216 players who appeared in 65 or more games); Ilyasova’s 103.7 was only 87th-worst. There’s also the issue of Ilyasova’s contract—he is guaranteed $23.7 million over the next three seasons—which we will get to. But consider the value of Ilyasova’s very unique set of skills, specifically in his combination to rebound and shoot the 3-ball, the rates of which he did so in 2011-12 (17.6 TRB% and .455 3P%) and 2012-13 (13.9 TRB% and .444 3P%) have gone unmatched in NBA history. Would he be worth it? Contract-wise, the Wizards could swallow it, provided that Ilyasova remains consistent for three seasons, but it would all depend on the exchange.
What move could possibly suffice? Not many, and merely thinking about the parameters is a head-scratcher.
For one, you have to remember that the “expiring” contracts of Trevor Ariza or Emeka Okafor cannot be packaged with the third overall draft pick in any sort of pre-draft deal because the draft takes place on June 27, and Ariza and Okafor won’t be able to make their respective contract decisions (opting into $7.7 million for Ariza and not opting out of $14.4 million for Okafor) until July. It’s possible that the two teams could draft for each other and make a swap when the time is right, but that path doesn’t come without risks. Besides, neither Ariza nor Okafor will likely be part of any sort of summer trade conversation for Grunfeld. Not Randy Wittman’s best and most dependable defenders, an improved team defense being the pillar upon which team brass has sold a glimmer of success.
For two, Ilyasova will make $7.9 million next season and for the two seasons following. In 2016-17, Ilyasova will be on the books for an non-guaranteed $8.4 million. The New Orleans Pelicans acquired Ryan Anderson from the Orlando Magic last summer and gave him a 4-year, $34 million contract. Anderson, whom many thought to be an ideal a fit for the Wizards, has a contract that runs the duration of Ilyasova’s guaranteed portion, but averages about half a million more per season. Not only is Ilyasova the better rebounder (14.8 career TRB% to Anderson’s 13.4), but he’s also the better passer (7.8 career AST% to Anderson’s 6.3).
Anderson is a better career 3-point shooter than Ilyasova (.384 to .379), and Anderson clearly gets up many more attempts (7.6 career per 36 minutes to Ilyasova’s 3.7). Anderson, 6-foot-10 in height, is more of a player who can be run off the dribble or off curl screens going to the basket, as well as getting looks via spot-up attempts. Worth noting that Ilyasova’s 3-point percentage has really improved over the past two seasons (146-for-326 over 133 games, .448), while Anderson has been his consistent self during the same time (379-for-979 over 142 games, .387).
It should also be noted that Ilyasova shot 45.6 percent (89-for-195) on “above the break” 3s last season and 33.3 percent (6-for-18) on corner 3s. In 2011-12, he shot 45.8 percent (44-for-96) on “above the break” 3s and 46.7 percent (7-for-15) on corner 3s. Thus, the drop in corner 3 percentage isn’t so much of a worry because of the small sample size. And it would also make more sense that a “pick-and-pop” 4 or trailing big man who crashes the offensive boards would get more 3-point attempts in the “above the break” area, as opposed to a wing player spreading then court or getting out on the break with John Wall and sliding to the corners.
So, a trade involving the third overall pick for the 26-year-old Ilyasova, a year older than Anderson, would at least assure talent on the roster in the future, unlike getting Mike Miller and Randy Foye for a single season in exchange for 2009’s fifth overall pick.
Here’s the only thing I would consider giving up the third pick for at this point:
Washington Wizards Receive:
- Ersan Ilyasova
- John Henson (Bucks fans will say ‘No way!’ to this.)
- 15th overall pick from Bucks
Milwaukee Bucks Receive:
- Jan Vesely
- Chris Singleton
- Trevor Booker
- 3rd overall pick from Wizards’
- 38th overall pick from Wizards (or Tomas Satoransky)
(Note: Henson might have to be a separate trade in exchange for the Rashard Lewis trade exception and pick No. 38; Ilyasova for Vesely, Booker and Singleton works—and Bucks fans are still shaking their head ‘no.’)
And even this trade makes me queasy (with the talented, potentially defensively-capable Henson thrown in). Grunfeld centering a trade around giving the third overall pick for a former second-rounder (Ersan was taken 36th overall in the 2005 NBA Draft, 13 spots in front of Andray Blatche) would be #SoWizards. But, get this, Ilyasova is about eight months younger than Blatche and only about six months older than Trevor Booker. Plus, that 15th pick brings some value. FWIW, ESPN.com’s Chad Ford has Shabazz Muhammad going 16th in his latest mock draft and Rudy Gobert going 17th. RUDY!
What’s in it for Milwaukee? I dunno, I guess if they wanted to rid themselves of Ilyasova’s contract, but that potential send-off is probably predicated on Henson’s development for Milwaukee. Which, again, why this is probably a no-go. Unless Milwaukee really likes Alex Len at No. 3 (or the chance that Nerlens Noel slips) and would like to try finding treasure in the to-date inconsistent existences of Singleton, Booker and Vesely in Washington.3 The SportsRadio 1250 host started his dialogue with Woelfel with this:
“Ersan Ilyasova is a guy, whether they get Josh Smith or they don’t get Josh Smith, just doesn’t seem to be a fit. Even going back to the Larry Drew press conference, he talked about [John] Henson right off the bat. Mainly because Henson was sitting there, but he was talking about Henson, he talked about Larry Sanders and how both of them have huge upsides and he can’t wait to coach them. He did a huge dialogue at the beginning of that press conference about them. He didn’t really bring up Ersan until we got into the Q&A portion later. It sounds like [Drew's] buying into the fact that [Henson and Sanders] are the two guys he’s going to go with going forward. What do you think the likelihood is that Ersan Ilyasova gets moved on draft night or sometime this summer.”
[3 Booker, Singleton and Vesely are all defensive-minded and odds are that at least one of them will pan out to be something.]
Contingencies considered, you would be looking at a core of Wall, Beal, Ariza, Webster (MLE contract), Ilyasova, hopefully Henson, Seraphin, Nene, and Okafor next season. (Gosh, Seraphin is soooo key… for a variety of reasons worth another post.) Heading into 2014-15, the Wizards’ rough-estimate contractual commitments would be Wall (into his max-lite extension at $10-plus million), Nene ($13 for two more seasons), Ilyasova ($7.9 for two most seasons), Beal ($4.5 max extension kicking in when Nene’s contract up), Webster ($5.3 million for three more seasons—estimated), Seraphin ($3.8 million QO placeholder, will hopefully command new contract), 2013 15th pick ($1.5 million), and Henson ($1.9 million). Meaning, the Wizards could have an ‘OK’ amount of free agency money (potentially $7-to-10 million, rough estimate) to use in the summer of 2014.
Or maybe the Wizards should just keep the pick. Take Otto Porter, a facilitating stretch 6’8.5″ player with a 7’1.5″ wingspan who increased his college 3-point shooting by more than 20 percent between his freshman and sophomore years to 42.2 percent (despite launching with the shooting mechanics of Ronnie Brewer). Or even select Anthony Bennett, a big body who measures at 6’7″ with a 7’1″ wingspan, possess an ability to rebound (he grabbed 20 percent of all his team’s rebounds as a freshman), and can offensively play inside or out to the 3-point line. Add another future piece with a high ceiling and be done with it.
Maybe it just depends on Washington’s level of patience, which could wear thin if the next move, or non-move, turns out to be can’t-win, what-if situation.