Why Ersan Ilyasova is Obviously a Better Fit than Trevor Booker

Photo Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

People are bothered by the fact that Bryan Colangelo basically traded a second round draft pick for 83 days of Trevor Booker.

I don’t blame them.

It’s a negative move, the culmination of a sequence that began with the jettisoning of Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas, an inevitable parting of ways that was delayed to the point of having to throw in an asset just to sever ties. The failure to move Okafor when he actually had trade value is one of several Colangelo missteps.

But I’ll give him credit for moving on from Booker instead of cutting someone else in an attempt to justify the Brooklyn trade. It made the most sense to waive the current second unit power forward to bring in the new second unit power forward, instead of parting ways with a guy like Richaun Holmes instead.

However, let’s not act like a second round draft pick has the same value in 2018 as it did in 2014. The Sixers are WELL BEYOND the point of mining for back-end talent and looking for the next diamond in the rough. They’re turning the page on the Process era and should be focused on bringing in a free agent superstar (or two) to play alongside Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and maybe Markelle Fultz. It feels like we’ve entered the epoch where the Process crashes into whatever we’re calling this next phase of Sixer history.

That’s not really what this article is about, but I wanted to start with that to let you know where I stand. Sure, I’d love for the Sixers to have used that pick to grab another Jonah Bolden or maybe stumble upon Monta Ellis 2.0, but it is what it is. It doesn’t absolve Colangelo of blame, but fans should have their sights set on bigger and more important things on March 1st, 2018.

Anyway, I want to talk about Ersan Ilyasova, and how he’s a much better fit for this team.

You obviously watched him last year with the Sixers, when he averaged around 15 and 6 in 27 minutes over the course of 53 games (40 starts). He shot 44% and 35% from three, chucking up 12.2 field goals per game and 5.6 from behind the arc. That’s a lot of shooting, and the green light is certainly going to look more like a yellow light this season, since the club finds itself in a playoff push for the first time in a long time.

Trevor Booker doesn’t shoot the ball, well, at all really. He’s an interior banger and glass cleaner who did some nice things off the bench for the Sixers, providing energy and offensive rebounding but not much else on that end of the floor, as you can see in this per-36 comparison from basketball reference:

I put Dario Saric on there so you can see how they both compare to the first unit guy.

Ilyasova is certainly the better shooter, and while Booker is the best rebounder of the three, the gap isn’t as big as I thought it would be.

Let’s take a look at the shooting heatmaps, courtesy of Austin Clemens:

Booker barely shoots anything outside of the paint. His range is limited and he rarely looked to shoot at all during his brief stay in Philly, preferring to let others do the job while he pushed inside for rebounds. He only shot it 259 times this season between the Sixers and Nets.

Below average at the rim, way above the league average from the corner and just underneath the foul line.

He’ll shoot early and often and doesn’t settle for a lot of low-percentage 20-foot stuff. He does a nice job of taking higher percentage looks.

You see Dario’s chart looking similar to Ilyasova, though Saric hits more of his threes from the top of the arc and doesn’t do much work in the corners. Dario is a better finisher inside but doesn’t take a lot of baseline looks. He’s tried 33% more shots this year than Ersan has.

That’s a snap-shot of how each guy likes to operate.

Here’s another way to illustrate the drastic offensive differences between Ilyasova and Booker, from NBA Savant:

All of that really just serves to explain that Ilyasova spaces the floor much, much better than Booker, who would often crowd Joel Embiid’s space and bump into other players while crashing the net in pursuit of rebounds. He wasn’t a threat to shoot from outside like Saric, which meant defenders could sag and throw that late double team on Embiid, or put another body in an area where they could slide inside to help defend Ben Simmons on dribble-drives.

For instance, on a play like this, Embiid is working the low post and Booker doesn’t really have anywhere to go, clearing out a bit but just sort of standing out of bounds for a moment:

He’s certainly not a threat to shoot, so Taj Gibson can basically just stand in the paint, not get whistled for 3 seconds somehow, and clog the lane while Embiid tries to get by Karl-Anthony Towns.

Joel doesn’t do himself any favors on that play, but you see how the spacing works, or doesn’t work when Booker is out there. It was especially rough when he’d be on the floor with Amir Johnson, who certainly doesn’t have Embiid’s range.

Look at the spacing here:

Here’s another sequence with Saric on the floor, and while the ball doesn’t go to him, you see how there’s just enough space created for Embiid to work 1v1 while Andrew Wiggins has to at least respect Dario’s range:

Again Embiid throws it away here, but you get the point; it’s easier for him to get into his low post sets when he has room to operate. When Booker had to clear space, it didn’t seem like much of a big deal, but that’s 2-3 seconds Joel has to hold the ball before he can get started, and we know how he has trouble with turnovers when he overthinks or over-operates in those positions.

Check the spacing here with the first teamers on the floor:

That’s what Ilyasova does for you as a stretch big.

His ability to shoot the ball creates spacing in the same way that having Saric on the floor does, so basically swapping him in for Booker makes your second unit look more like the first unit. Add Marco Belinelli to the mix and you now have a decent group of bench shooters, instead of junking up the game with lineups featuring Booker, Johnson, T.J. McConnell, Jerryd Bayless, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.

You’ll see more of this:

And look for high-low opportunities when teams decide to throw that double on Embiid:

So there you go. Ilyasova is just a much nicer fit for this team based on his shooting and ability to space the floor, mirroring the skill-set of your starting power forward. He’s not Mutombo, but he can play a bit of defense, too.

The difference between this season and last season is that he’s not going to be able to chuck up 12 shots per game, since this isn’t a team finishing up the last season of a tank. He’s going to have to play his role with a bit more deference in 2018. Still, there are worse things in the world than a second-team possession ending with an Ersan corner three, especially considering what we saw from the bench in October and November.

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8 Responses

  1. Several lady friends have told me that Aton Shander didn’t “fit” in them because he was too small.

    Like it kept falling out.

    1. So “several lady friends” is what Shander nicknames his left and right hands, huh?

  2. Really good article. Ersan is an ideal fit. I totally agree. The spacing issue is key. The worst was having Booker and Amir on the floor at the same time. That won’t be an issue anymore. You are correct that BC’s real mistake was not trading JA sooner. However, I can’t believe that people think we were “fleeced” in the Nets deal. Getting rid of garbage was a big win imo. At this point if the Sixers are pinning any hopes on a 2nd round pick, then the process is way behind. The isn’t the case, clearly. Although they still have some growing pains ahead of them.

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