Sixers Intrigued by Ersan Ilyasova's Ability to Stretch Floor, Open Room for Bigs

The Sixers addressed on- and off-the-court needs with the acquisition of Ersan Ilyasova on Tuesday.

The team sent Jerami Grant to the Thunder for Ilyasova and a future conditional pick just three games into a season quickly hampered by injuries (see story).

The Sixers' frontcourt was hit with the early losses of Ben Simmons (right foot) and Nerlens Noel (left knee), as well as the delayed return of Jahlil Okafor (right knee). They also have been working around the minutes restriction of Joel Embiid. Once facing a logjam, the Sixers found themselves in need of more healthy contributors. 

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“The first thing that should come to all of our minds is, he can shoot,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “I’m purposefully pausing. He can shoot. He has an identifiable NBA offensive skill in that he can stretch the floor.”

Last season, the 6-foot-10 power forward averaged 10.4 points and 5.4 rebounds between the Pistons and the Magic. He shot 42.4 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from three. The Sixers expect Ilyasova’s ability to hit the outside shot will help alleviate challenges they have faced with spacing. 

“Floor spacing was important,” Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said. “Perimeter shooting has been something that we’ve wanted to improve. We’re getting a guy that comes in and has a lot of experience at that NBA power forward position, the stretch four. I think it’s a good complement to our good young bigs that have shown an ability to post. They need some room to work. Any time you’ve got floor spacing, it opens things up for everything.”

The Sixers had to reconfigure their starting lineup once Simmons and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) were sidelined. As a result, Dario Saric was forced into a starting role his rookie year. Brown said the possibility of starting Ilyasova at the four and moving Saric to the bench is “all on the table.” Brown sees their similarities creating interchangeable lineups. 

“You have a very common type of look at that four spot,” Brown said. “You’ve got a very common type of look with Jahlil and Joel when they all get healthy at the five spot. There is a symmetry when you start subbing that the system remains the same. Our focus is to get those big guys the ball as much as we can and play off them.”

In addition to Ilyasova's defensive rebounding and willingness to take a charge, the Sixers were drawn to his potential outside of the stat sheet. They see the 29-year-old providing veteran leadership to the young team. The Sixers have needed a more experienced presence following the retirement of Elton Brand.

The trade for Ilyasova fits the Sixers' approach of building the current roster on short-term deals. Ilyasova is earning $8.4 million this season on an expiring contract. 

“You haven’t seen us take on any long-term commitments,” Colangelo said. “That’s obviously in attempt to continue with the goal of maintaining as much flexibility as possible. … This is an expiring contract but it’s also a piece that we’d like to look at over time to see if he is a fit. Based on what we analyze and evaluate on paper, it looks like it could fit."

Colangelo said there is an "outside possibility" Ilyasova is in uniform for the Sixers' game in Charlotte on Wednesday night.

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