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A Year in Review: Ersan Ilyasova and the power of floor spacing

"The Professional" provided an added element to Brett Brown's offense, and it's an aspect I failed to appreciate during his brief stint with the Sixers.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The return for Jerami Grant on Nov. 1, 2016 net Bryan Colangelo a conditional first-round pick and an immediate contributor in Ersan Ilyasova, marking Colangelo's first trade as the Sixers' general manager. As head honcho after Lord Samuel Hinkie unceremoniously resigned, Colangelo sought a capable stretch-four weeks into the 2016-17 season. Ilyasova fulfilled expectations in 53 games adorning the red, white and blue Sixers uniform with averages of 14.8 points and 5.9 rebounds while sporting a 44.0 FG/35.9 3PFG shooting line.

Ilyasova regressed from November to February on his three-point shooting clip (40.3 percent in November, 23.2 percent as a Sixer in February), but provided head coach Brett Brown an additional big outside of wunderkind rookie Joel Embiid who'd tempt defensive bigs into venturing out to the perimeter. Fast forward a year later and Ilyasova's impact on Brown's offense has been magnified by current problems plaguing Philadelphia's approach.

Unfortunately, present-day floor spacing and offensive creation from positions two-to-four has been a relatively scarce commodity with Markelle Fultz out, Jerryd Bayless struggling in Fultz's absence, ditto with Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, and Dario Saric miscast as a halfcourt scorer. Mirroring his urgency to acquire a plug-and-play power forward last season, Colangelo replenished some depth in Philadelphia's frontcourt by way of Trevor Booker.

Others have touched on Booker compressing Brett Brown's spacing, and it's a topical talking point when comparing Booker and Ilyasova's offensive tendencies.

Courtesy of nbawowy!, Booker's widespread negative effect regarding floor spacing stems from his outdated offensive style, as defenses have played accordingly. Joel Embiid has a 44.0 effective field goal percentage alongside Booker compared to a 51.8 percent clip when Embiid plays without. Robert Covington also sees a drop in his eFG from 55.6 to 48.1 percent when Booker assumes the power forward slot.

Sure, Booker immediately made an impression by generating second possessions and finishing around the basket, but his archetype isn't valuable — especially on a team with two point guards still green as floor spacers. Booker will journey to his next team and "shoot" at a high clip as an energy forward who beats other bigs in transition, cleans up when the opposition cedes rebounds and fancies high-efficient hooks.

However, Booker, Amir Johnson and Richaun Holmes all illustrate why having floor spacing bigs is paramount in the present day NBA. Brown could've done without Ilyasova's irrational confidence and stealing valuable moments/reps from Embiid, Saric, and Covington during his brief stint. The trade-off for Ilyasova's volume shooting and defensive limitations, again, resides in additional space for slashers, shooters and play designing.

If Ilyasova served solely as a floor spacer, he'd basically function as a taller shooting two-guard who's limited as a three-level scorer. Ilyasova's athleticism hindered him as a creator off the dribble, but the 6'10" forward shot 65.8 percent from shots taken three feet and in (a career-high).

Return to any of his highlight videos and you'll likely find Ilyasova converting baskets using his silky touch. Ilyasova didn't have the agility or explosiveness to finish at the rim, but he'd lay it in high off the backboard and use his length to drop in shots.

Those crucial mid-range shots are noticeably absent, with 17.7 percent of Ilyasova's shots coming from roughly three feet to 16. However, Ilyasova retroactively became a fine sample in what Colangelo's future bench power forwards should look like alongside Embiid and other centers. Also, Ben Simmons and T.J. McConnell presumably will factor into Colangelo's determination on margin-filling bigs. McConnell's commendable evolution into a reliable halfcourt scorer, as an addition to his defensive relentlessness and playmaking, doesn't take away from how he operates. McConnell attempts 73.7 percent of his shots from 16 feet and in this season while continuing to work into the teeth of the defense.

With many, if not all, of his threes coming in the catch-and-shoot variety, McConnell would appreciate incoming frontcourt shooters. It's painful watching Jordan Bell seamlessly fit into Golden State's starting center position, but Jonah Bolden better complements Philadelphia's core players' skill sets (if you're still up in arms about passing on the former for the latter). Both should serve as low volume offensive options whose mobility can create recovery and weakside block opportunities, but Bolden's floor spacing and pick-and-roll potential hold incredible value in Brown's system.

The 6'10" Bolden could play both the power forward and center position in Philadelphia, but it's a matter of preference for Brown. Does he pair Bolden with another rim protector or will he sacrifice some rim protection for added floor spacing and offensive potential? With money hurled at rim protectors on a yearly basis, Bolden filling the center position and Colangelo targeting an Ilyasova or Mirza Teletovic type on a seven-figure annual deal could be the play two years from now. Trading either Saric or Holmes would open up minutes at the four and five, respectively, and create an avenue for playing time as a rookie.

Colangelo wisely flipped Ilyasova to a contender prior to the 2017 trade deadline, avoiding his looming contract renegotiation while acquiring a second-round pick, swap rights and Tiago Splitter. Opening salary to dish out for new upgrades to pair with an incoming Ben Simmons and the team's first-round pick, Colangelo considerably whiffed on the Amir Johnson signing.

Defenders insist Johnson take wide-open threes and Johnson's 20.0 percent mark renders him a nonfactor along the perimeter. While Ilyasova's penchant for his vintage step back three had fans grimacing and aggravated, at least the threat of his shot kept opponents honest. Colangelo and Brown have an in-house option in Dario Saric who's fresh off a 25-point performance (10-12 FG, 5-6 3PFG), but fleeting shooting performances and McConnell's emergence as a halfcourt offensive initiator might complicate Saric's future standing.

If Philadelphia is successful at landing their big ticket free agent to flank Embiid, Simmons, Fultz and Covington in the starting lineup, Saric could be the likely casualty. And even if Philadelphia somehow fails to ink a FA stud, Saric's representation and Colangelo could haggle over his second contract's framework. Saric also likely needs to see his shooting percentages from 16 feet and out ascend and reinvent himself as a dependable three-level scorer.

The primary component remains perimeter shooting in low volume. Ilyasova seldom shied away from a shot attempt for himself and it's pertinent Colangelo addresses a stretch four's role beforehand while remaining adamant they're here to pick-and-pop and catch-and-shoot.

Colangelo has his pick of Channing Frye and Marreese Speights this offseason plus Mirza Teletovic and Nikola Mirotic in 2019, among others. All feasibly could mesh if Embiid is staggered into their minutes, akin to Ilyasova gelling with Embiid in early 2017, and if Bolden fulfills 3-and-D potential to an extent, floor spacing isn't a pressing issue.

In retrospect, Ilyasova had his share of flaws (defense, shot selection, etc.) on a rebuilding team but served as an example as to why floor spacing holds value and the ease it provides in play calling. While names like Hollis Thompson, Tony Wroten and Henry Sims will resonate with Sixers fans during The Process' period, Ersan Ilyasova also needs to be remembered in Process lore as the blueprint for Philadelphia's second unit offensive power forward during their contending stage.

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