By Jim Owczarski Sports Editor Published Apr 25, 2012 at 8:05 PM Photography: David Bernacchi

It's fan appreciation night tonight at the Bradley Center, and the Milwaukee Bucks – all nine of them in uniform - unfortunately can't give the few fans here anything more than effort.

The game means nothing, and some fans have been saying the season hasn't meant much.

I have to disagree with that sentiment.

While it's true that every fan should expect its professional organizations to have a championship-or-bust mentality heading into each season, it's an unrealistic expectation in the NBA.

That is especially the case in this truncated season where only a handful of teams started the year thinking title. The Bucks, clearly, were not one of them.

The playoffs were a realistic goal, however, and that goal was nearly realized. Nearly. That makes it a disappointment.

So, the "team" thing didn't quite work out.

Let's look at the individuals. Plenty to like and dislike there, too, but something Bucks fans should hang their hat on is the play of Ersan Ilyasova. The big man, who is not playing tonight with a right knee injury, has made the national conversation as a potential Most Improved Player candidate averaging 13 points, 8.8 rebounds and shooting 45.5-percent from the 3-point line.

Why the improvement?

To coach Scott Skiles, it's easy to see; "He's done a good job of keeping it simple."

The veteran coach said Ilyasova got out of the bad habit of launching bad shots with poor footwork, a look Skiles said reminded him of the Bucks' Hoop Troop launching t-shirts into the crowd.

The assembled media giggled at the analogy, but Skiles kept a straight face.

"Literally (looked like that). Literally. Footwork all screwed up and phoom! With not a chance to go in," Skiles said. "Now, if it comes to him and he's at the three, he takes it. If he's inside, he takes it. It's something we've really encouraged him to do and he's kept it real simple. And the other stuff he does well, he's always does well – rebound, play hard and all of that. But he's become a much more efficient player because he's kept it a lot more simple."

Ilyasova says what helped him was playing competitively overseas during the lockout, allowing him to come into the season in game shape.

He also said he came into this season wanting to be "more aggressive and give 110-percent. Sometimes in a game it's not about what you're shooting. Sometimes you have nights where you can't make shots but you there different things you can do on the floor so you focus on that."

As for potentially winning that award, Ilyasova said it would be a "huge honor."

If he’s back with the Bucks next season, perhaps the Hoop Troop can launch some commemorative t-shirts into the crowd in his honor.

Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.

A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.

To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.

Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining

In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.

Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.