There was a familiar face back on the practice court Monday for the Milwaukee Bucks and the players had some unique takes on their returning teammate.
Eric Bledsoe thought he looked like a superhero and was only missing a catchy name. Giannis Antetokounmpo went a different direction, likening what he saw to one of the elves from Lord Of The Rings with the way his get-up pushed his ears forward.
Either way, the Bucks were certainly happy to welcome Ersan Ilyasova – mask and all – back after the veteran forward broke his nose during practice on Dec. 16. He started practicing “a bit more” on Saturday, getting shots up before Milwaukee’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, and donned his mask during parts of Monday’s session.
“Ers is a big part of our team,” Bledsoe said. “It’s always good to see somebody on the way back coming from an injury.”
It’s not the kind of thing you want to have extensive experience with, but as one of the premier charge-takers in the NBA for over a decade Ilyasova is no stranger to breaking his nose or playing with a mask. In fact, he’s pushing double figures when it comes to nasal fractures.
“This is my, I will say, ninth time,” Ilyasova said, noting this most recent fracture wasn’t as bad as the one he suffered while with the Bucks in 2014 that put him in a mask. “Just for some reason, it’s just always elbows flying around and always hitting my nose, but it is what it is and I have to go through it.”
With that many breaks, you might think Ilyasova already would have a mask handy. He actually already had one made prior to the incident at practice a few weeks ago, something he said that happened during a walkthrough, but it wasn’t the right fit.
The mask he had was made when his nose was more crooked to one side. After undergoing surgery on Dec. 21, a procedure performed by Sachin Pawar, a plastic surgeon who’s part of the Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin health network, Ilyasova’s nose is straighter now, which meant getting fitted for another mask to add to his collection.
Ilyasova’s injury came the day before the Bucks visited the Detroit Pistons in what went down as a 107-104 victory at Little Caesars Arena. That was the night second-year forward D.J. Wilson had the breakout performance of his career, collecting nine points in nearly 26 minutes while playing exemplary defense on Pistons star Blake Griffin.
That game marked the start of a strong stretch for Wilson, who has averaged 7.0 points and 7.1 rebounds in over 20 minutes per game while shooting 43.9 percent from the field and 43.8 percent on three-pointers over the past seven contests while Ilyasova has been out. Those games included Wilson’s first double-double, which came when he collected 10 points and 14 rebounds in a win over the New York Knicks on Dec. 27.
“This is the thing with really good teams, everybody has to be ready because it’s a long season and a lot of stuff happens,” Ilyasova said. “We have a deep team and everybody can contribute in the right way.”
Ilyasova won’t be back in action when the Bucks take on the Pistons for the third time this season to ring in the new year at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Fiserv Forum. Depending on his progress, Ilyasova may be cleared Friday or Saturday when the Bucks host the Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors for a weekend back-to-back set.
While coach Mike Budenholzer would like to have Ilyasova back at his disposal as soon as possible, the silver lining is that Budenholzer can wait a few more days to figure out how he’s going to handle his now-crowded frontcourt rotation when Ilyasova gets back. Before Ilyasova went down, Wilson had been injured and wasn’t getting regular minutes. With his play over the past few weeks, it will be hard to keep him off the court.
“Ersan’s somebody that we think we’ll find minutes for,” said Budenholzer, “and then (with) those young guys, keep trying to figure out how we can keep them involved and growing and developing, but I guess for me it’s a couple days away.”
Another one: Antetokounmpo was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the fourth time this season – and second week in a row – on Monday. During a 3-0 week for the Bucks, Antetokounmpo averaged 30.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 3.0 blocks and 2.3 steals while shooting 62.1 percent from the field.