The 76ers have yet again taken a step towards being the most European NBA team possible, as they acquired Ersan Ilyasova and a future protected first round pick today in exchange for Jerami Grant. Ilyasova, like the Sixers’ guardian angel Furkan Aldemir, hails from Turkey. He’s also the second Sixers player to have played for Anadolu Efes, after that Dario Saric guy, after spending part of the 2011 lockout over seasons in the Turkish Basketball League. But does he help the Sixers at all?
Ilyasova, 29, is the Sixers’ first true stretch power forward I can recall, at least in my memory. Saric, despite a beautiful shooting performance last night where he made three of his four threes, hasn’t been consistent so far in a super small sample size this year while still acclimating himself to the NBA. The only player in recent franchise history to fit the mold of a stretch four (my apologizes to stretch-five legends Spencer Hawes and Byron Mullens) is Donyell Marshall, who suited up for just 25 games with the team in 2009 at 35 years old.
Ilyasova aids the Sixers’ shooting woes and floor-spacing issues in two ways: he actually has a reliable three-point stroke, having connected on 38.8 percent of his threes since 2012, his breakout since post-lockout with the Milwaukee Bucks, including 37.1 percent (259 attempts) last season over 74 games split between the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic.
Additionally, head coach Brett Brown is no longer able to force Jerami Grant as a three onto the court, which, aesthetically, cleans up this team’s offense even more so than Ilyasova’s arrival. A Nightshift bench unit that has Sergio Rodriguez and Richaun Holmes run the pick-and-roll-and-destroy-the-rim with Ilyasova stretching the floor and the corpses of Nik Stauskas and Hollis Thompson floating about could actually be quite entertaining.
Is Ilyasova a competent defender? Um, no. He ranked 72nd among 87 qualified power forwards last season in Defensive Real Plus-Minus at -0.85. As a frame of reference, Nerlens Noel (R.I.P.) ranked eighth among power forwards last season at 2.29. Typically, I’d worry about the loss of the team’s budding defense identity that comes with losing an excellent weak-side shot-blocker in Grant. The Sixers entered today ranking 13th in defensive rating in an oh so small sample size, per basketball-reference, at 104.9. Joel Embiid’s defensive rating is 97, which would rank fifth in the league going by team ratings. Embiid’s emergence as a potentially elite rim protector should mitigate Ilyasova’s defensive deficiencies in whatever amount of minutes the latter gets.
Bryan Colangelo made this move with the intention of improving the team’s putrid offense this season. The Sixers’ humiliatingly low offensive rating of 84.2 is obviously last in the league and would rank as the worst in the history of basketball. Yes, it’s been just two games, but in Colangelo’s grand scheme of keeping up appearances and making it look the team isn’t tanking this season, it’s better for his plan to have a more competent offensive outlook.
Having both Ilyasova and Saric in the fold now should allow Embiid to play next to some semblance of a stretch-y power forward at all times now. If this, much like the addition of Spanish Chocolate, has an added benefit of aiding Embiid’s offensive development, allowing for more space for him to work with in the paint, then the trade is a win. Every move with this team should be made with his future in mind and this is no different.