The Milwaukee Bucks’ more notable offseason additions, those being Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova, have already paid off dividends so far this season. But it’s been in the brief time they’ve shared the floor together that has helped some of the team’s long standing problems.
Throughout the Milwaukee Bucks’ sterling, undefeated start to the 2018-19 season, there hasn’t been one area that hasn’t gotten credit when it’s been due.
Sure, the likes of superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo and to a lesser extent, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe, will always garner the bulk of attention when it comes to their respective individual play. The same obviously goes for the addition of new head coach Mike Budenholzer, whose arrival has sparked the Bucks in lucid ways, much to the delight of all Bucks fans everywhere.
With that said, it’s been the stout supporting cast around the Bucks’ nucleus that has helped fortify the Bucks in ways we haven’t seen from the team in quite some time. Of that class of players for the Bucks, their two more proven pickups from the offseason, Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova, both have instantly found their niche within the starting lineup and off the bench.
When the Bucks went out and signed both veterans in free agency this summer, it was easy to envision the appeal both could provide to the Bucks and more specifically, Antetokounmpo’s wide-ranging talents.
Both Lopez and Ilyasova provide balance, savviness and most importantly, floor spacing from the team’s frontcourt, with Lopez having overhauled his shot profile more recently.
Ilyasova’s return back to Milwaukee came with a bit of sticker shock on the opening night and minute of free agency, but it spelled a clear intention for what the Bucks were valuing with other free agent questions looming over them at the time (i.e. Jabari Parker).
While we certainly have seen how both have assumed ideal complementary roles next to the team’s cornerstones, it’s been the unforeseen combination the two pose on the floor together that has come as a pleasant surprise to open the Bucks’ regular season account.
At first glance, it may be strange to see such a pairing, as it both slots the team’s best player (Antetokounmpo) down out of his natural position at this point in his career and goes against the grain of how teams are constructing their ideal, potent lineups.
Yet the same qualities and traits that have made for a seamless fit next to the likes of Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe have done the same when Ilyaosva and Lopez are paired up with each other.
Per NBA.com/stats, the two-man pairing of Ilyasova and Lopez has logged 70 minutes together and has complied a net rating of +21.4 points per 100 possessions. It shouldn’t come as a shock to see a five-out lineup as the one the Bucks can roll out with both Ilyasova and Lopez manning the 4 and 5 spots have made them as formidable as their collective offensive rating suggests (110.8 points per 100 possessions).
But to see how well Ilyasova and Lopez have performed together defensively as a frontcourt duo has certainly been unexpected, considering they have posted a defensive rating of 89.4 points per 100 possessions.
Although mobility and athleticism aren’t their strongsuits at this stage respectively, the veteran pair’s brand of strong defensive positioning and general know how have strengthened their frontline pairing. Beyond that, the size and steel both provide on the glass have acted as a catalyst in the Bucks’ unlikely rebounding resurgence, though both have not been the main beneficiaries in that regard.
Case in point, the Bucks with both Ilyasova and Lopez playing alongside Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Bledsoe have been a rebounding juggernaut as they have compiled a 33.3 offensive rebounding percentage and a 88.2 defensive rebounding percentage in the 17 minutes that 5-man unit has been on the court.
Again, there hasn’t been any shortage of early success stories from top to bottom on the Bucks’ roster and on a more specific note, all of the Bucks’ pickups this summer, whether through the draft or free agency, have each made their mark on the young season so far.
In the case of both Ilyasova and Lopez, it’s been reassuring to see the plug and play impact both have had playing off of the Bucks’ top players as well as next to each other.