DETROIT - No one saw this addition to the big man rotation coming, but if you're a 76ers fan, you should be glad it has.
The addition of Ersan Ilyasova in an early-season trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder very well could be the team's best acquisition - not counting draft picks - since Brett Brown became head coach four seasons ago.
The overwhelming theme going into this season was how Brown was going to be able to figure out playing time and schemes with a trio of centers in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, and Nerlens Noel. And if two of those were going to play together, who was going to cover the rangy power forward that almost every NBA team rolls out now in its starting lineup?
Now with Ilyasova, a model stretch four at 6-10 who can shoot the three and pass like a point guard, Brown has a plethora of lineups to create mismatches.
"I think he has been significantly better than I guessed he was going to be," Brown said. "I knew he was going to be good, but you can argue that he's been our best player and our most consistent player. The versatility that we see from him is very widespread.
"You originally think of Ersan Ilyasova as a stretch four that can make a long three and that's that. You go deeper and you realize that he's an elite passer, he is our team's best passer. He can be posted. We know that he can shoot. Some of the ways he gets up and down the floor contradicts what I originally thought of him athletically.
"I think that he does have speed, he can move, he is mobile. Defensively he takes charges, he rebounds [17 against Memphis on Tuesday]. All over the place he's really emerging to be a beyond solid player for us."
On Saturday the team announced that Nerlens Noel will be available to play Sunday in Detroit, but that Joel Embiid wouldn't make the trip because of an inflamed elbow and the restrictions on his playing time.
Also, after missing three games with gastroenteritis, Okafor should play.
Eventually, perhaps as soon as the home game Wednesday against Toronto, all the big pieces will be available. And the way he's been playing, don't expect Ilyasova to take a backseat to anyone.
"I just play my game," said Ilyasova, who is averaging 14.2 points and 6.3 rebounds and shooting 37.9 percent from three-point range in his 20 games as a Sixer. "Obviously, when you look at our team now we have a lot of talent. We have guys that can shoot the ball. We are [tied for eighth] in assists in the whole league. It says a lot about us.
"Being on this team has changed things a lot for me, but when you look at the whole of my career, this is a great place. I love to be around these guys. There are some things that we have to figure out better, but I think we have a great, great team. There are small things that we have to work on."
Soon they will have just about the complete roster to do it.
"This first game I'm just simply focused on playing basketball and let things take care of themselves," said Noel, who hasn't played yet this season after a knee procedure in late October. "I'll control what I can control. I just have to feel out the little things of the game, the little tricks that I have, and just get up and down the court and being able to fight through the first three minutes that will be real crucial. After that I think my feel for the game will naturally take its place."
Who will take what places now that the team is flooded with big men is the big question, just like it was this summer. Only now, Ersan Ilyasova has to be thrown into the mix.