The Utah Jazz’s Monday night blowout of the Lakers really is pretty impressive when you consider that their offensive focal point sat out the entire game due to injury.
Hopefully Ersan Ilyasova’s left hamstring tightness isn’t too serious, though.
The Turkish big man’s epic performance on Saturday — which saw him go 5 of 5 from 3-point range for 15 points in the first quarter, and also contribute a massive rejection of Kyle Kuzma at the rim — was bound for a permanent place in Jazz lore had the team pulled off a win that afternoon. As it is, it’ll now have to settle for a momentary eyebrow raise — and maybe for stoking a minor debate about how the 13th-year vet may contribute down the stretch run.
Is it possible he has a role to play in this final month of the season?
Well, context matters, and thus, a reminder is perhaps necessary that Ilyasova’s big game came on a day when the Jazz were missing/sitting out all of Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, Rudy Gobert, and Derrick Favors.
That said, his teammates were impressed by how he went out there and contributed.
“Ersan really shot the ball and spaced the floor for us. That was the first time I’ve actually seen him in live action and really got to play with him for a long amount of time,” said Jordan Clarkson. “[Saturday] he really showed that he can shoot the ball, space the floor for us — and defend also. You know, he made some big plays for us, for us to have a chance to win a game. The block on Kuzma was pretty big.”
Favors, whose absence due to right knee soreness is one of the reasons that Ilyasova got to start and play 32 minutes, was likewise complimentary of his efforts on both ends.
“Ersan did a great job of spacing the floor and also defending the paint, and defending the rim too,” Favors said.
JAZZ VS. ROCKETS
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Coach Quin Snyder was likewise pleased with the fill-in performance.
While Mitchell will miss at least a week and possibly more with his sprained ankle, and while Favors’ balky knee legitimately kept him out multiple games (leading to some rare first-quarter minutes from Ilyasova in a previous appearance), the listed injuries of Coley and Gobert were perhaps bit more tenuous — something Snyder seemed to obliquely acknowledge in noting that the team wants “to be fresh at the end of the year,” while he wants “to continue to see who we have and how we connect.”
Sounds like justification sitting your resident Defensive Player of the Year candidate for the first time all season and throwing a floor-spacing 5 out there to see what happens.
And what happened was five made 3s without a miss in the opening quarter by Ilyasova.
“That’s one of the things that he’s capable of doing. And the level that he did it ... his aggressiveness early, is something that we wanted from him,” Snyder said. “It allows us to space the floor from another position.”
Ilyasova, for his part, said he was simply doing what was asked of him to the best of his ability.
And while he conceded that he’s struggled a bit to adapt to his new team given all the constraints that go along with this unique season, and admitted that his initial performances with the team did not do a lot to inspire much confidence, he also maintained that his years of experience of playing in the NBA are ultimately enough to help him adapt — like he did Saturday.
“It’s basketball — everywhere is the same,” Ilyasova said. “Obviously this season so far was really unusual. We didn’t have a lot of practices, it’s a lot of games, a lot of traveling. As a result of some of those things, it’s hard to kind of keep up and learn the new plays. But it’s all about playing basketball. When you play with guys who really [play] high-IQ basketball, you just try to make a play and be in the right place and do the right things.”
As for how much he’ll get the chance to do that going forward?
Well, on the one hand, it’s no secret the Jazz value their continuity — an idea reinforced by Snyder ahead of Saturday’s game: “We’ve been — probably more than any other team this season — really consistent with a nine-man rotation. By and large, we’ve had a lot of continuity with our group. So this is a little bit new for us, obviously, having four guys out that are a big part of what we do.”
On the other hand, though, much as Gobert has said he tries to play every game, the desire to keep him fresh and healthy may win out. And as much as Favors said that sitting out those games was “a precautionary thing” and that “it wasn’t anything serious,” he also noted that “with the compressed season, and all the traveling, and all the games, sometimes the knee gets sore.”
Ilyasova likely doesn’t fit into the Jazz’s playoff plans unless Favors’ knee really starts acting up, or unless there’s some foul trouble. But it wouldn’t be inconceivable to expect him to reprise his bigger role a few times within this final month of the regular season.