The NBA has three current players from Russia. One is Blake Griffin's first real poster victim. The other two now play for the Timberwolves.
Kevin Love was not subtle with his take on the Wolves over the course of his career so far.
It's tough seeing all these guys [on the Olympic team] that are young and older who have played in the playoffs. When they start talking about that, I have nothing to talk about. If I don't make the playoffs next year, I don't know what will happen. ...I don't know, it's going to be me or something, but our management needs to step up and make some moves. Something needs to happen in Minnesota.
And so the team that has historically both struggled and been reluctant to write big checks to make big changes did both, drawing from all corners of the NBA and beyond: Texas, Memphis, Boston, the retirement line, and a couple from Russia. And in the process, 'Sota also went a long ways towards solving it's biggest weaknesses: defense, and scoring on the perimeter.
Kirilenko isn't exactly an NBA secret. He's a 10 yearn NBA veteran with the Utah Jazz, where he served as their most versatile (and in some cases, only worthwhile) player. In the dark time between the end of Stockton-to-Malone and the start of Deron Williams, Kirilenko led the Jazz in....basically everything....with averages of 18 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 3 blocks. Versatility that he's carried through his career. Even when his number isn't called, he finds ways to impact the game.
More importantly, Kirilenko excels in areas Kevin Love does not, particularly defense in space and help defense. Rick Adelman pegged the Russian Rifle as a guy the team needed because "he doesn't talk about scoring. He talks about passing and defense." Kirilenko himself sees his playing style as defense-oriented, a guy who guards everyone from Dwyane Wade to Kevin Garnett. For a team that was nearly dead last in defense post-Rubio, Kirilenko couldn't be more welcome.
But equally as welcome is Kirilenko's CSKA teammate, NBA newcomer Alexey Shved. A 6'6" combo guard who will spend most of his time at the 2, Shved has spent the last couple years proving he's one of Europe's most creative and dynamic perimeter players. Fans stateside were somewhat skeptical at first to the comparisons to guys like James Harden or Manu Ginobili, but the flashes he's shown in preseason have begun making a pretty solid case. Shved has showed both his range, and a finishing ability that can be downright Ginobili-esque.
A player who can lose defenders off the dribble and finish at the rim is something of an urban legend here in 'Sota. Guys like Randy Foye and Michael Beasley were always as much risk to themselves as the other teams in the lanes, and some...like Wes Johnson...couldn't put the ball on the deck at all. Even the team's better perimeter guys...Terrell Brandon, Wally Sizzlerbean, Sam Cassell....did most of their damage from 15 feet out.
But in Shved, the Wolves have a guy with both imagination and fearlessness on the court. Already in preseason, Alexey has shown he can dream up and make some crazy circus shots: a backhanded suicide dive (Paul Pierce), a changing-hands-in-midair scoop (Ginobili), a lazy over-the-head lefty on the run without even jumping (Steve Nash). That's something the Wolves have badly needed since KG was still a teenager. If Shved can do that kind of stuff at the same level as a Ginobili or Nash...meaning every game, all season long....the Wolves will have found maybe the brightest gem of the offseason in the entire NBA. Not bad.
So if you put the pieces together...Love, Kirilenko, Shved....you get a guy with an unprecedentedly unique skillset who led all power forwards in points and rebounds, a guy with an insanely versatile skillset who can drastically impact both ends of the floor without his number ever being called, and a guy who could possibly become an unstoppable blitzkrieg of unpredictably creative scoring.
And oh yeah, that's all without factoring in the Spaniard with the 360 degree court vision and passing skills that even Magic Johnson would be proud of.
For once, onward and upward might actually come true.