MILWAUKEE -- Ersan Ilyasova has statistically improved in nearly every area of his game this season. And soon, the 24-year-old Turkish-born forward for the Milwaukee Bucks may have the hardware to prove just how much better he has become.
Though the Bucks find themselves out of the playoffs for the second consecutive year, Ilyasova's performance this season has him atop the list to potentially win the NBA's Most Improved Player award.
"That would be a huge honor for me," Ilyasova said Wednesday. "When the season started, I just wanted to improve myself as a player. Even during the lockout I was playing games for the national team, and after that I was signing with a Turkish team as well during the lockout time. I think that's helped a lot to improve myself as a player and help stay in shape before the season started."A second-round pick in 2005, Ilyasova is now about to complete his fourth NBA season wherein he set career-highs with 13.0 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists. Plus, his 3-point shooting went from 29.8 percent last season to 45.5 percent this year. That success rate from beyond the arc was second-best in the entire NBA, trailing only New York's Steve Novak."In the past he would look for the 3-point line and hurry up and step behind it and launch it like they launch t-shirts into the crowd," coach Scott Skiles said of Ilyasova. "Literally. His footwork was all screwed up and just voom! Not a chance to go in. Now, if it comes to him, he's at the three, he takes it."He was getting in a lot of trouble taking ill-advised threes and pump-faking when he should have shot it, and shot it when he should have pump-faked. He's just kept it simple."It's something we really encouraged him to do and he's kept it real simple. The other stuff he does well, he always does well; rebounding, playing hard, all of that. But he's become a much more efficient player because he's kept it a lot more simple."The biggest competition for Ilyasova for the Most Improved Player award are Orlando Magic forward Ryan Anderson (whose game is very similar to Ilyasova's), New York Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin, Rockets point guard Goran Dragic and Pistons big man Greg Monroe.While some may consider Lin as the most likely winner of the award -- given that he made the basketball world completely Linsane for a few weeks after being released earlier in the year by two NBA teams -- the issue is that he only played in 35 games this season and has been out since March 26 with a season-ending knee injury.That is why Ilyasova, though he got far less publicity than Lin, should end up being named Most Improved."He's been great," Bucks guard Brandon Jennings said of Ilyasova. "We don't really run a lot of offense for him, but he gets the rebounds. Sometimes we think he's missing on purpose just to get his rebounds. But that's just what he does. In general, he's been playing hard, he gets the big boards, he makes the big shots for us."That is, my opinion, the most improved player of the year."The only problem for the Bucks now is that Ilyasova is about to enter unrestricted free agency. Therefore, he is able to sign with any team and Milwaukee's front office can do nothing to prevent it."We'll see all the options I have in front of me and we'll go from there," Ilyasova said. "I have a lot of offers from overseas right now. They're really interested, but my main goal and my first option is to be in the NBA."Follow Paul Imig on Twitter.