Posted by: David J. Smith on August 30th, 2010The author's views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of the Utah Jazz.
We’ve seen two polarizing sides to Andrei Kirilenko in the past five years.
Many of us fondly remember the glory days of our own AK-47: the jaw-dropping 5×5 games, the timely help side defense, his long arms poking the ball away, some stellar assists, and the constant moving without the ball. He did things we didn’t think were possible. Andrei was a fantasy basketball stud. He was a surprise All-Star and blocked shots leader who was the heir apparent when numbers 12 and 32 rode off into the sunset. The max contract didn’t shock too many (although I think he wasn’t a full max player).
Unfortunately many of us also remember the horrific 2006-2007 season that saw a 7 point drop to a career-low 8.3 ppg, the precipitous drop in every statistical category, the total lack of confidence, and the infamous crying session in Houston. Likewise, the injuries started to mount.
The past three seasons have hovered between these opposite sides of the spectrum, as AK seemed to settle into a fourth or fifth option role. While the blocks aren’t anywhere where they used to be (mostly due to a permanent perch in the small forward position), he’s been consistently giving Jerry Sloan 11-12 ppg, 5 rpg, and 3 apg. Were it not for a bloated contract, many would be totally thrilled to have such solid numbers and play from our 3 spot.
So what should which Andrei should we expect this upcoming season?
I feel we’ll see something halfway: a more focused, free-wheeling Andrei who bests the last four seasons’ stats, but one who still won’t replicate what we did five campaigns ago. A few reasons why:
- When we signed Carlos and Memo half a decade ago, AK was instantly bumped many spots down the offensive pecking order. While he’ll get more touches early one with both out of the picture (at least until Okur returns), he’ll still be more of a secondary scorer behind Deron, Al, and most likely Paul.
- Still, I think he’ll be able to play better off of Al than Carlos. Jefferson is a true low post scorer who will open things up for the much improved outside marksmanship AK has exhibited the past few years. One thing to watch: Carlos was an underrated passer and Al has yet to show the aptitude to be a solid facilitator off double teams. AK learned from Matt Harpring how to constantly be running and Jefferson will need to deliver the rock to him.
- As he’s said many times, Kirilenko doesn’t thrive off off shots as much as he does touches. I see him resuming his familiar role as the second facilitator in our offense, relieving a lot of ballhandling pressure off Deron (and helping Gordon Hayward ease into it…someone I think will be yet another passer for us). He needs to be on the court when Ronnie Price is in, so as to provide some passing prowess.
- With no solid back-up behind Paul, AK will get more opportunities to play the power forward position. When doing so, what he lacks physically, he makes up for with his agility. His length and wingspan annoy the opponents, so I see a slight uptick in blocks. He loves to throw the element of surprise against opposing fours.
- Don’t underestimate the power of the “contract year.” No one, including Andrei (and hopefully Masha) expects another $17-$18 million pay day. He’ll still be working toward a nice contract and his stated preference would be to resign here. That always adds a spring in the step (see Boozer, Carlos; Dampier, Erick; James, Jerome).
- And also remember the flexibility his huge expiring contract provides. Should things not go as smoothly, other teams will still be looking to add someone of his stature and fiscal relief. If this is the case, it behooves both AK and Utah for him to play well. While I cannot predict what will happen, Kevin O’Connor would not be doing his duty if he didn’t field the calls that will be coming in all year long. My gut feeling is that Andrei stays, but that’s another blog for another day.
So all in all, I think we’ll see Andrei step up. His length and well-rounded game are integral to our overall success. When we went on our torrid run midseason, AK was the true catalyst behind our juggernaut. I think 13, 6, and 4-5 are realistic expectations. A more participatory and active Kirilenko makes us a true contender and one who can make some noise in a slightly weakened Western Conference.
Yet another reason to be excited for October…
What do you expect of AK-47? Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts!
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