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Andrei Kirilenko is averaging 17.5 ppg in two games so far this month.
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Kirilenko, Martin show flashes of All-Star form

By Jeff Case, NBA.com
Posted Feb 4 2010 1:18PM

Though we've used this space to highlight young players who have caught our eye, there are two veterans who can't be denied a place here any longer.

It wasn't that long ago that Andrei Kirilenko and Kenyon Martin were considered two of the NBA's rising stars in the frontcourt. Hard to believe, but six seasons ago, the duo made its first (and only) All-Star Game appearance.

Back then, Kirilenko was keeping a rag-tag Jazz team in the thick of the West playoff race while Martin was a key cog in a Nets team shooting for a third straight Finals appearance (which never happened).

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While Martin (17 points, seven rebounds) had a much bigger impact on the 2004 All-Star Game than Kirilenko (two points, one rebound in 12 minutes), both had established themselves as solid defensive players with an occasional knack for scoring, too.

The similarities don't end there. Both signed huge contracts in the summer of 2004, though Martin moved on to Denver in the process. After their big paydays, though, both have dealt with injuries and diminished roles, making them appear to be overpaid role players.

Their career symmetry is back again as Kirilenko and Martin have found the fountain of youth of late, keeping Utah and Denver in a tight Northwest Division race. The Jazz were a stellar 10-4 in January, notching big wins over the Heat, Blazers, Suns, Cavs and Spurs. The Nuggets were an even-more-impressive 12-3, an astounding record considering they were without All-Star Carmelo Anthony and team leader Chauncey Billups for different stretches.

In the last week, Kirilenko played a huge role in wins over the Suns, Blazers, Kings and Mavs, frustrating opposing forwards and protecting the basket like back in those special days of 2003-04. Meanwhile, Martin has shown his old aggressiveness on the boards, pulling in double-figure rebounds as Denver picked up wins over New Orleans, Houston and a big road win over the Spurs.

Who knows how long these career revivals will last for Kirilenko and Martin? Both have teased before with flashes of their former All-Star selves. The longer they keep it up, though, the more interesting the Northwest race will be.

NBA.com's Five on the Rise is a weekly look at which young players (and resurgent veterans) have yet to reach stardom, have regained the form of their younger days and, most of all, have made the biggest impact for their team in the last week. These rankings are just one man's opinion and are released every Thursday during the season. If you have an issue with the names on this list, or have a question or comment for Jeff Case, send him an e-mail.

G. Daniel Gibson, Cavs
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4319.36.71.21.10.50.1.464.472.706
Last Week's Rank -
When Cleveland made its run to the 2007 NBA Finals, Gibson went from seventh or eighth man in the regular season to key reserve as the playoffs wore on. Between injuries and the Cavs' addition of Mo Williams since then, he's basically been relegated to a specialist role -- until Williams and Delonte West went down with injuries. Gibson has done nothing but shine as the Cavs' starting point guard, scoring in double figures in his last six games (all starts) and showing a much better ability to run an offense than in seasons past. Always a reliable 3-point shooter, Gibson is averaging roughly three made 3-pointers a game as a starter and making a sweltering 44.4 percent from deep as a starter. In a postgame interview with NBA TV, he thanked LeBron James for keeping confidence in him during his time on the bench and throughout the week has said that playing with the Cavs' uber-talented roster makes changing roles a snap. "With this team, it's an easy transition," Gibson told The News-Herald. "They're not asking me to go out there and win the game. They are asking me to go out there and control it. With each game, more confidence grows, you understand what teams like to do and what's expected of you from your teammates."

G. Andre Miller, Blazers
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5130.013.33.05.20.90.1.443.204.819
Last Week's Rank -
From his postgame comments in the locker room to his postgame interview with NBA TV's crew, you'd never know the milestone Miller reached last week. It was just another ho-hum day at the office as he scored 52 points -- the second-highest single-game total in team history -- in Portland's 114-112 overtime win at Dallas. His point total was eye-popping, but more outstanding was his shot selection throughout the night. He attempted only one 3-pointer and scored most of his baskets off layups, turnaround jumpers and mid-to-short-range shots, proving that Miller is more than just a distrubtor that he's often made out to be. Back to the 52 points, though -- it was two points shy of Damon Stoudemire's record set in 2005 against the Hornets and marked the third time in Miller's career (and first since 2002) that he scored 37 or more points in a game. "I've had a few heated nights in my career, but I think this was one of those nights where I just didn't stop shooting," Miller said. "The other nights when I was hot, I stopped myself from shooting the ball ... Tonight was the night where I just kept doing it. I just didn't settle."

C. Andrew Bynum, Lakers
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Last Week's Rank -
As has been well-documented on this site (and others), Bynum has struggled to play well with Pau Gasol this season. But Lakers fans can point to a pair of games last week during which Gasol and Bynum seemed to be meshing in perfect harmony. While L.A. dealt with Kobe Bryant's injuries (finger, ankle), Bynum put in a pair of big games that showed some development in the big man's game. Take his Sunday outing in a win over the Celtics in Boston (19 points, 11 rebounds); Bynum not only got involved early -- scoring 12 points in the fourth quarter -- but showed aggressiveness by chasing down loose balls and even dunking in Kevin Garnett's face. In the Lakers' 99-97 win last night over the Bobcats, Bynum put in another solid stat line (17 points, 14 rebounds). In both games, he and Gasol worked well together around the basket and gave each other enough space to operate.

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Last Week's Rank -
Kirilenko keeps his spot in our rankings this week on the weight of his performances in wins over the Kings and Mavs. With both Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer out on Saturday at home against Sacramento, the Jazz seemed ripe for another home upset, which would have ended a four-game win streak. Yet there was Kirilenko, not only putting forth an 18-point, seven-rebound night, but also taking on the role of initiating the Jazz's offense and teaming with Paul Millsap to shut down the interior on defense. The duo combined for 50 points, 21 rebounds and five blocks (all of which were Kirilenko's) and Kirilenko's constant movement on offense overpowered the Kings' thin frontcourt as the Jazz hung on. Even more impressive was his play against the Mavs as Kirilenko put up a solid line (13 points, eight rebounds) but did a knockout job -- along with Millsap -- in limiting All-Star Dirk Nowitzki to 28 points. Though the Jazz's points allowed has risen a tick with Kirilenko starting (it's at 98.2 a game; they allow 97.3 ppg this season), Utah has also played two up-tempo teams during that span: Denver and Phoenix. Tossing out those two, the Jazz are allowing 94.1 ppg. We can't help but give a good portion of the credit for Utah's newly found defensive focus to Kirilenko.

F. Kenyon Martin, Nuggets
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Last Week's Rank -
We can quote you stats that prove Martin has improved his play of late (such as averages of 14.9 ppg and 11.3 rpg in January). We can also point out some games in the past week (such as a 24-point, 12-rebound night against the Kings or a 12-point, 15-rebound effort against a decent Rockets front line), too, that prove he's picked up his play. Instead, we'll let Martin's teammates do the talking. "This is definitely the best stretch he's had since I've been a Nugget," guard Chauncey Billups told The Denver Post. "He's just playing with so much confidence." That was no more apparent than his aforementioned game against the Spurs, in which he scored 27 points (going 12-for-21 from the field) and had 11 rebounds. While that line alone is pretty impressive, what's more telling is that Martin got those points without making a single layup or dunk, the usual staples in his offense. He routinely nailed open 12-to-15 footers over the Spurs. Martin also played his typical solid defense, holding Tim Duncan to a rather pedestrian 16 points and 10 rebounds.

The Next Five

G: Russell Westbrook, Thunder -- Westbrook gets the nod this week for his near triple-double en route to a schooling of Hornets rookie guard Darren Collison. Westbrook, who played with Collison at UCLA, helped limit New Orleans' new starter to a 4-for-12 shooting night and five turnovers. Westbrook, for his part, had 26 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds while impressing us, also, with just two turnovers. It marked the second straight game in which Westbrook flirted with a triple-double (he had 12 points, nine assists and nine rebounds in a win over the Hawks) and controlled the pace in both games. "I'm just trying to stay consistent," Westbrook told The Oklahoman. "Whether we win or lose, I think if I stay consistent it's a better outcome most of the time."

G: Goran Dragic, Suns -- Dragic has continued to rise all season for the Suns as their top backup and showed a ton of progress in January, which was easily his best month as an NBA player. He shot close to 50 percent from the field (49.5 percent) and averaged 10.1 points and 2.2 assists in about 17 minutes a game. After the Suns got word last week that Leandro Barbosa would miss the next six weeks following wrist surgery, Dragic gave his best Barbosa-like performances. He had 13 points in 15 minutes in a key win over the Mavs and although his stats weren't impressive in Phoenix's next two wins (over Houston and New Orleans), he did a steady job last week of helping Phoenix get on track after a mini-swoon.

F: Gerald Wallace, Bobcats -- Crash makes our list this week not only for his killer stats against the Kings (38 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, two steals, two blocks), but for how he got them. Go back and watch the highlights (or re-watch it on League Pass Broadband) and you'll see Wallace getting most of his points off cuts to the basket, transition hoops and alley-oops. Oh yeah, he had 15 free-throw attempts, too (making 12). In short, it was another case study as to why this guy is on the East All-Star team and some others are not.

F: Paul Millsap, Jazz -- Millsap must have heard us thinking last week of our topic as he, too, is another Utah player getting in on the vintage performance action. With regular starter Carlos Boozer on the mend from a strained right calf, Millsap did what he's always done for the Jazz: step into the starting lineup and deliver Boozer-like numbers. In his last four games (all his first starts of the season), Millsap averaged 23 ppg and 10.7 rpg, including a 32-point, 14-rebound game against the Kings and a 25-point, nine-rebound effort against the Mavs. The Jazz are dealing with the will-they-or-won't-they talk regarding a possible Boozer trade, and with an expensive backup in Millsap, it is a legit discussion. But Millsap, as usual, isn't making waves or demanding more playing time as Boozer's fill-in. "Somebody was going to have to pick up that load, and I took it amongst myself to try to step up and do that," Millsap told the Salt Lake Tribune.

C: Andrew Bogut, Bucks -- After being the early darlings of the NBA, the Bucks have come down to earth, struggling to an 8-7 record in January. The Bucks were on track for a losing record last month were it not for a late surge by Bogut last week to give Milwaukee wins in three of its last four games, including a pair of monster games against Miami. He had 17 points, 15 boards and four blocks on Jan. 30 at home vs. Miami and followed that up with a 22-point, 11-rebound game in a blowout win over the Heat in South Florida. Chalk some of that play up to a little frustration on Bogut's part, who told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel he hopes to be an All-Star one day. "He has looked like an All-Star caliber center in a lot of games," coach Scott Skiles told the newspaper. "The problem is he still has the occasional game where he looks like the exact opposite."

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