Meeting Ersan Ilyasova
Thunder newcomer Ersan Ilyasova understands five languages and speaks four. For as wild as his professional basketball ride has been, it’s a good thing assimilating to new cultures comes so easily to him. As he joins a talented Thunder squad, it’ll be that ability to adapt that helps him transition smoothly.
Ilyasova played professionally in Turkey for a couple years before being drafted in the second round by the Milwaukee Bucks, but an injury delayed his chances to play for his squad. He ended up spending 2005-06 in, ironically, Tulsa. With the 66ers, he averaged 12.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, and the following season he spent in Milwaukee, playing 66 games.
He decided he needed some more time to develop, so he signed with FC Barcelona and played two years there in Spain, winning a championship in 2009. After that season, he rejoined the Bucks and played in Milwaukee for two seasons. During the collective bargaining agreement negotiations in 2011 that cut the season short, Ilyasova managed to play for the Turkish club Anadolu Efes from August through December, and jumped straight into the NBA schedule once games resumed.
WATCH: Talking With Ersan Ilyasova
Up until last year, things were steadier for Ilyasova as he shot 45.5 percent and 44.4 percent from three-point range in 2011-12 and 2012-13, by far the best seasons of his career as a shooter. In 2015-16, however, the Bucks traded Ilyasova to the Detroit Pistons, who then dealt him to the Orlando Magic mid-season before the Thunder acquired him on a draft-night trade alongside Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. As soon as he got to Oklahoma City, Ilyasova knew he had fallen into a great situation.
“I’m glad to be a part of a first class organization. You can tell right away,” Ilyasova said. Everybody welcomed me with open arms. I think it’s a really good opportunity for me.”
For his career, Ilyasova is a 37.0 percent shooter from three-point range, which is strong especially for a player of his size and 6-foot-10, 235 pounds. He has career averages of 10.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 24.1 minutes per game, and has often been seen as one of the best shooting big men in the league. Considering the penetrating, attacking style of Thunder guards Russell Westbrook, Cameron Payne and Oladipo, Ilyasova’s skill set is a nice fit.
“I’m a stretch four. I try to create a lot of space for the guys to operate inside and out,” Ilyasova acknowledged. “Sometimes, though, I feel the game isn’t all about shooting. There are a lot of different things you can do defensively and offensively to get extra possessions.”
Despite averaging just 25.4 minutes per game last season, Ilyasova managed to lead the league in charges taken. Whether it’s because he’s played professionally for so long, his understanding of the NBA game or natural instincts, Ilyasova has a knack for getting to the spot on time. Much like Thunder stalwart Nick Collison, a charge taker in his own right, the rangy Turkish forward prides himself on making the hustle plays and being reliable.
“Those things kind of come naturally to me. Be in the right place and the right situation,” Ilyasova said. “Offensive charges, its reading and anticipating what he’s going to do before he does something.”
That gritty nature is a natural fit for the brand of basketball that the Thunder likes to play. As an opponent, Ilyasova has seen the way the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd can impact games and he knows that over the years the Thunder has built a basketball personality, which new players must be equipped with and demonstrate whenever they touch the floor.
“They’re going to play tough, they’re not going to give up easy possessions,” Ilyasova said of the perception of the Thunder around the league. “That’s the chemistry of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s team. When you say the team’s identity, when you look at the great teams like San Antonio, they’re really strong defensively. Oklahoma City is one of those teams. When you come to be a part of it, you have to be at a certain level to compete.”
Though training camp is still a week away, Ilyasova has been in Oklahoma City getting to know his new teammates, getting up to speed with the coaching staff and acclimating himself to life as a member of the Thunder. Through all of his travels, the different teams he’s played for and experiences he’s had, one thing is clear to him – an in-depth understanding of your teammates is a crucial aspect of hitting the ground running before the regular season begins.
“It’s all about finding chemistry,” Ilyasova explained. “Sometimes when you come to a new team, you have to go through those adjustments, learn new plays and know each other and what to expect from each other. The sooner we get there, the better for the team. For us to be successful, we have to move forward as a unit.”