[This article is by Yucca Man, one of the authors at our sister blog SLC Dunk. It was originally posted as a fanshot a couple months ago. We're reposting it now so that it can be pinned to our cover for everyone to enjoy again. A big thank you to Yucca Man for contributing this!]
I'm a writer at SLC Dunk, and Andrei Kirilenko is probably one of my top five favorite basketball players ever. So, now that you are going to get him on your team, I have to write about him.
First, let's get a few negative things out of the way:
- He's going to miss games due to health. Expect him to miss about 15 games. It's going to be back spasms, calf spasms ... stuff like that—chronic issues that really won't go away.
- He'll drive you nuts a few times with some crazy turnover. It's just the kind of player he is.
- His outside shot will terrify you. It's not as bad as you will believe it is, you'll look at the actual data and think: no way his shot from 20 feet is that high a percentage, but you will still you cover your eyes and yell: "No!" the next time he pops a jumper.
- He's declining. The most notable sign is his shot-blocking. It's still good. But not what it once was.
Now, a few other tidbits. Not negatives necessarily, but they may force you to adjust your expectations:
- Small forward is not his best position. He was an All-Star PF in 2004, and that's when he was still a skinny dude who looked like a tall SF. He's bulked up a lot over the years, and he's slowed just a bit. He's also much better in the paint than throwing up outside shots. He'll do fine as a SF, but it's not really the spot that fits him best.
- He's not a shut-down defender. For all his defensive acclaim, this was never his thing. Rather, he is the greatest help defender I've seen in my life. He keeps his own guy in check (not shut down, but in check) while covering the defensive liabilities of everybody else on the team. He single-handedly turned the mid-2000's Jazz into a top-ten defensive team even though every other major player was a defensive liability. And though he's slowed down since his prime, expect the same kind of thing: He covers his guy decently, enables the team to withhold double-teaming, all while covering for everyone else.
- He's best offensively if he can get the ball in his hands and just kind of do whatever he feels like at the moment. Just playing like a wild horse. He's not selfish ... he's one of the most unselfish players I've ever watched. But he needs the ball in his hands so that he can be selfless. It will be really interesting to see how your team does it. It took Deron Williams four years to figure out how to give the ball to Andrei enough to let him be most effective.
And now the fun. The things I loved about him, and the things you'll enjoy.
- Unbelievable creativity. He'll pull off the craziest passes: no-look bounce passes through his legs to a guy cutting behind him; little shovel passes like a QB pitching to the FB; he's even hiked the ball like a C to a QB. Seriously, the stuff he does (as long as he's given the reigns and touches) are just crazy. Sometimes they'll go wrong, and you'll wonder what on earth he was thinking. But more often they'll go right, and you'll just be grinning at the ridiculousness you just saw.
- He's pretty much always in a good mood. Bad calls don't faze him. You'll never see him forget to get back on defense because he's bitching about a bad call. He just shrugs and goes on. It was an incredible balance to Deron Williams, back when they were our guys. Everything was a big deal to Deron. Every foul, every miss, every shot ... Deron was 100% epic, and when a couple things didn't go his way it really affected him. AK-47 was the balance that brought him out of that.
- He doesn't foul. For all his defense, all his steals, all his blocks, all the rotations he makes to cover for everyone else ... he just doesn't foul. It's probably the most underrated aspect of his game.
- He's brilliant at getting to the free throw line. He always has been. This makes him a really efficient scorer.
- His cuts to the basket are incredible. He understands the timing, spacing, and angles of cuts in a way that makes him seem like a savant on this.
- He doesn't swat his blocks into the stands. He always tries to tip them to teammates to start a fast break.
- He's a terrific screen-setter.
- He does so many little things that nobody else would think of. Things like faking a jump for a rebound to get the guy boxing him out to jump to early.
- He LOVES to steal the ball immediately after the other team wins the opening tip.
- He LOVES to steal the ball after the other team gathers a rebound from a missed free throw. He'll kind of wander to the rebounder's blind-side and, when the rebounder turns to throw it to the PG, just take it out of his hands and lay it in as if it was handed to him like a birthday present.
- He LOVES passing and being a good teammate.
- He's so disruptive defensively. He reads passing lanes well, and he's always bopping the ball out of oppoonents' hands. And he just thrives on physical defense ... all while avoiding fouls.
- He has the worst hairstyles ... and the most ridiculous tattoo ever (a giant image of his World of Warcraft Paladin riding his flying mount that covers his entire back). An unbeatable combination.
Finally, here's a highlight video. It's from 25 games in 2010. Notice what I just wrote about — the incredible cuts leading to dunks, the blocks into his teammates' hands (and notice that he's never blocking his own guy), the disruptive defense. This is Andrei Kirilenko at his Wild Horse best:
He'll never be a huge scorer. It's just not in his mindset. And because he never put up 20 ppg, some thought he was overpaid when he had a max contract. He wasn't. He affected every single play on both ends for good. He was probably the 4th best player in Jazz history ... and yes: that means better than Adrian Dantley or Pistol Pete (at least at doing things that actually help his team win).
No, he was never overpaid. Just underused.
As long as he hasn't declined physically too much over the passed year, and as long as your team lets him do his thing, you got a bargain and I am envious. I seriously think of Rubio and AK doing crazy crap together and just grin.
I hope you enjoy him.