Andrei Kirilenko and the changing of the guard


Andrei Kirilenko: 45 G, 4 GS, 19.0 MPG, 5.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.89 SPG, 0.42 BPG, .513 FG% .200 3P%, .513 FT%, 12.48 PER, 0.8 EWA

grade-c-plusAndrei Kirilenko changed his production in a subtle way: though he’s been known throughout his career as a stat-stuffer, including the only small forward in NBA history to lead the league in blocks or blocks per game, Kirilenko focused instead on moving without the ball and playing man defense. He did an incredible amount of little things that don’t show up in the stat sheet, after a career of filling up box scores.

Kirilenko played admirably throughout the season, fighting through what he called the worst back spasms of his career and other various injuries, but didn’t ever look like he was playing at full strength. His numbers dovetailed, even accounting for his tempered playing time.

He also weirdly forgot how to make free throws midway through the season. It was staggering how bad he looked: the ball leapt out of his hand before he followed through like a scared dog. In practices, he looked fine: of the little I saw, I’d estimate he hit about 80 to 85 percent. (Coaches, feel free to correct me.) But he shot just 51.3 percent from the line in the not-small sample size of 119 free throws on the season, way below his career average.

It’s also easy to forget Kirilenko wasn’t supposed to be on the Nets at all. He was spurned by a shady move from the Timberwolves, who reportedly told him they’d give him a three-year contract if he opted out of his $10 million deal… only to never follow up with that contract. Just shocking that Kevin Love wants out of there.

Kirilenko saw a drying market, an opportunity to win a championship (however silly that looks in hindsight), and signed on in Brooklyn for a $7 million discount. Considering that he only played about half the season and set a career-low in minutes per game, the contract didn’t end up being as big a bargain as you might expect. He did say to me in an interview in February that he’s thinking of his contract as a two-year contract (not one with a player option), but told reporters at the end of the season he wasn’t sure if he’d pick up his option.

Before the season, Andrei Kirilenko listed his playing career in a two-to-four year window, and he’s got to make the decision whether or not to pick up his player option. Considering his diminished playing time, lack of production, and health concerns, I’d expect him to come back. He showed he’s got something left in the tank this season, if only he can stay healthy.

Must-read: The Anatomy of A Stopper: Talking With Andrei Kirilenko, the off-ball superstar