Stan Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower have shown an affinity for taking unwanted players off other teams' hands for them. These trades have essentially been something for nothing deals, where the Pistons primary offer is salary relief to the trade partner.
The acquisition of Ersan Ilyasova was the perfect example of this strategy. While the Golden State Warriors were taking care of the overmatched Cleveland Cavs, the Detroit Pistons traded a couple of contracts on team options in Caron Butler and Shawne Williams to the Milwaukee Bucks for Ilyasova.
Ironically, the cap space the Bucks freed up eventually went to sign former Pistons power forward Greg Monroe to a three year, $50 million contract.
2014-15 Year in Review
While the Bucks were enjoying a tremendous bounceback year returning to .500 after a 15 win season, Ilyasova had a bounceback year of his own. Since a career year in 2011-12, Ilyasova had been on the decline for the following two seasons. In 2013-14, he was downright awful. His three point shot had abandoned him, his rebounding was near a career low, and he was practically unplayable as he hobbled through the season on a bum ankle.
Last season he returned to the efficient scorer he has proven to be over the course of his career, mostly thanks to a return of his three point shooting. After shooting 28 percent from three in the previous season, he shot 39 percent last year and a career high rate. But he did far more damage inside the arc than ever before in his career. He averaged 51 percent on two point attempts, a few notches above his career average.
However his decline as a rebounder continued. Ilyasova was once one of the better rebounders in the game, particularly considering his role as a shooter. In 2011-12 he finished 16th in rebound percentage and 18th in rebounds per game. Where in that season he averaged 11.5 rebounds per 36 minutes, last year Ilyasova averaged just 7.6.
Injuries also continued to be a problem as Ilyasova missed extended time last season due to a concussion.
Despite returning to the useful player he was before, it was clear that Ilyasova was the odd man out for the Bucks' resurgence. Led by extremely young and extremely talented players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, with the injured Jabari Parker also waiting in the wings, the 28 year old Ilyasova was expendable.
Ilyasova played extremely well down the stretch helping the Bucks reach the playoffs, averaging 14.5 points on 57 percent true shooting and 43 percent from behind the arc. But he would have had a difficult time cracking the rotation next season with Parker's return to health and the team was certainly relieved to find a taker for Ilyasova's salary.
Illyasova's departure was part of a larger strategy by the Bucks, as they also parted with other useful players in Zaza Pachulia and Jared Dudley for essentially nothing.
2015-16 Projected Production
Ilyasova will likely spend too much of the season dealing with the unfortunate comparison to the player he's replacing in Monroe. Moose had a terrific 2014-15 season and will likely benefit from being an appreciated, featured player in Milwaukee.
But based on his track record, Ilyasova may actually be able to replace a solid amount of Monroe's production. Here's how the two matched up last season on per minute basis.
The two are nearly identical in their ability to put up points, their efficiency in doing so, and in their win shares per 48 minutes. But Monroe has been an elite rebounder his entire career. Likely, Ilyasova's work on the glass will be the key in replicating Monroe's numbers.
But fit is the most important change that Ilyasova brings to the power forward position. With the Pistons trade for Reggie Jackson last season to build around Andre Drummond's ability in the pick and roll, Monroe's lack of shooting meant Jackson had another big man to deal with in the paint. Jackson's performance suffered until Monroe conveniently went out with the first extended injury of his career - at which point Jackson exploded with 21 points per game on 57.7 percent true shooting, 10.8 assists, and 5.7 rebounds.
Ilyasova should be the ideal power forward to pull that extra big man out of the paint and open up space for Jackson and Drummond to operate. Ilyasova does most of his damage in the middle of the court. Above the break three point shots, long twos from the center of the court, and shots at the rim made up 80 percent of his shots last season. He takes almost no shots from the baseline and doesn't do an in-between game.
What this means for the Pistons is that on the Jackson-Drummond pick and roll, the opposing power forward is completely out of the picture. This is what's so important for shooting out of the power forward spot - Jackson and Drummond have one less 6'11 guy they're having to deal with in the paint.
Take a look at the image below. Thanks to Tolliver's three-point threat, Charlotte is doomed on the pick and roll despite effectively containing Jackson. Jefferson is either going to have de-commit to Jackson and possibly give up the easy layup or allow Drummond to slip past him for the ally-oop, which is what ultimately happens. But put a second big man close to the hoop, the whole dynamic of this play changes.
While Ilyasova is a major shooting threat, he's actually a surprisingly well rounded offensive player. His .341 three point rate last year was way above his career average of .28 - but even that would have ranked just 12th among Pistons players last season. His presumptive backup Anthony Tolliver's was .715. Still, about half of his shots came via the catch-and-shoot and he converted at an impressive 55.5 percent effective field goal percentage (which weighs 3 point shots).
But the three point shooting is important. The Pistons now have two stretch players at power forward who toss up threes among the top ten highest rates in the league for big men. And they did it with far more effectiveness than most.
He's a talented offensive threat, but Ilyasova's defense maybe an issue. Overall, he allowed 1.6 percent better than his opponent's average field goal percentage. But in his disastrous 2013-14, opponents shot 53 percent against him, 6.5 percent better than their averages.
Last year according to Synergy numbers, Ilyasova was pretty good as an isolation defender, adequate in post ups, but one of the worst in the league defending the pick and roll. Despite his poor defensive numbers, it didn't seem to hurt the team much as his 103 defensive rating was on par with the team's 102.2.
The Pistons will be trotting out a power forward lineup of two players they acquired for peanuts, looking to replace one of the top power forwards in the game. But don't be surprised if they manage to hold their own.
Ilyasova is a pretty safe bet to be an excellent contributor on offense, but his defense, rebounding, and health will determine his level of success as a Piston - and if his partially guaranteed 2016-17 salary is picked up.
25 minutes per game, 12.5 points, 1.4 three-point field goals, 6 rebounds