The Sixers have too many big men. So, of course, they traded one on Tuesday…for another. Jerami Grant, the 6-8 power forward who plays with high energy but little outside game to speak of, was dealt to Oklahoma City for 6-10 stretch four — that basically means ‘power forward who can shoot’ — Ersan Ilyasova.
“What you’re getting in Ersan,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said before Tuesday’s heart-wrenching loss to Orlando, “is an NBA player with a very clear skill set that compliments our two interior five men.”
Brown spoke about how the young players on the roster will have to deal with one of their friends being traded, surely a precursor to this happening more than once during the season. The Sixers nucleus, as bad as it has been under Brown, has steadily developed together over the last few years. And yet, as Brown said, this is a business, and Ilyasova will provide something Grant never would: someone who can spread the floor and shoot the basketball.
Ilyasova, 29, is in his ninth season in the NBA. He’s averaged 10.6 points and 6 rebounds per game, shooting 44.3 percent from the floor. He’s a quintessential stretch four, shooting more than half his shots from 16 feet or deeper, including nearly 30 percent of his attempts from beyond the three-point arc. He’s a career 36.9 percent shooter from three, despite averaging fewer than three attempts per game.
Ilyasova is something else Grant isn’t: another international player.
Drafted in the second round of the 2005 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks by way of Turkey, Ilyasova is now the seventh player on the Sixers 15-man roster to be born outside the United States. That’s a lot.
Last week, the NBA announced a record 113 international players made opening rosters for this season, hailing from 41 different countries and territories. The previous record for international players in the NBA was 101, each of the previous two seasons.
The Sixers helped create that increase almost on their own, signing point guard Sergio Rodriguez from Spain this offseason, while bringing in former ‘draft and stash’ player Dario Saric after a few seasons playing in Turkey, then drafting both Ben Simmons and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.
The record number of international NBA players doesn’t include the dozens of ‘draft and stash’ players around the globe whose rights are owned by NBA teams but are not yet (or perhaps ever) on NBA rosters. The Sixers have two of those players, per Real GM, in Vasilje Micic of Serbia and Furkan Korkmaz, another 2016 draft pick, from Turkey.
At the start of the season, the Utah Jazz led the NBA with seven international players, followed by the Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors and the Sixers, each with six. Now, with the trade of Ilyasova, the Thunder have five, while the Sixers have seven, tied with Utah for the most in the league.
It’s worth noting that not all international players are, pardon the expression, foreign. Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers, for example, was born in Melbourne, Australia, but grew up in New Jersey and went to St. Patrick High School before playing at Duke. There are also 11 players from Canada — including Sixers guard Nik Stauskas — which is barely international at all, considering how many got to the NBA through the American college system.
Other international players came through the U.S. college system as well. Ben Simmons, who still has a noticeable Aussie accent, played one year at LSU after three years at Monteverde Academy in Florida, leaving Australia as a teenager. Joel Embiid learned to play basketball in Cameroon, then also went to preparatory school in Florida before heading to college for one year, at Kansas.
While Canada has the most international players this year with 11, France has 10 players, including Luwawu-Cabarrot, and Spain has eight players, including Rodriguez. Here is a look at the current Sixers roster, including international players the team holds the NBA rights to this year.
[table id=39 /]