The NBA's Secret Weapon
Melissa Majchrzak; Noah Graham; Scott Cunningham; J Dennis/Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
His nickname is AK-47, but I do not believe America realizes how potent a weapon Andrei Kirilenko really is.
He is one of the game's most underrated stars by far.
The Minnesota Timberwolves recognize the 31-year-old's value, signing the 6-9, 235-pound small forward to a two-year, $20 million contract Friday.
But to most of the league, he is just another starter out there.
NBA coaches and fans only voted him to one NBA All-Star team--way back in 2004--despite the fact that Kirilenko had a +3.0 Regularized Adjusted Plus Minus over his 10-year NBA career, from the 2001-02 to 2010-11 seasons.
Do you realize that only only a dozen players that played those same 10 seasons had a better plus-minus score than Kirilenko?
He also had a 19.1 Player Efficiency Rating over that same 10-year span.
Do you realize that only 14 players that played at least 20,000 minutes during those same 10 seasons had a better PER than Kirilenko?
I am serious.
The same media that cannot recognize Kirilenko with even one All-NBA selection in his 10-year NBA career had him pegged as the 90th-best ACTIVE player.
That, my friends, is why Andrei Kirilenko remains the NBA's secret weapon.
His greatness is unknown in most of the league's 30 headquarters.
NBA followers, by and large, do not see Kirilenko as the game's best shot-blocking thief, as a lock-down defender, as a do-everything offensive force.
The world, though, recognized his stardom in the one season he skipped the NBA to avoid the 2011-12 lockout drama.
Kirilenko won the 2011-12 Euroleague MVP and Best Defender award for his dominating season for CSKA Moscow, where he had the best Performance Index Rating (24.2), third-best plus-minus-per-game average (+10.2), while averaging 14 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks in 30 minutes per game.
It is so similar to his story in the NBA, where he has career averages of 12-6-3-1-2 in 31 minutes per game, also complemented by great advanced statistics.
Young All-Star Kevin Love recognizes Kirilenko's all-around talent, doing a 180 in his attitude toward the team's playoff success since AK-47 was acquired.
And Kirilenko's Olympics peers know he is capable of running off 35 points on 14-of-17 shooting, like he did during Russia's 95-75 win over Great Britain Sunday, while also holding Luol Deng to 26 points on 27 shots.
Or he can go for 16 points, 9 rebounds and 4 steals, like he did in Russia's 73-54 win over China Tuesday.
As his Russian Coach David Blatt--a former Princeton player--says, "When he gets in this [Olympics] environment, his game goes up another level ... If I'm the Minnesota Timberwolves, I've got a big, fat smile on my face.
It is just further proof to hoop connoisseurs that the former Utah Jazz player is indeed in top form again.
As Kirilenko told USA Today: "I feel great. Look at me. I'm running like a young deer."
"Fear the Deer, Y'All!"
I, for one, cannot wait for the 2012-13 NBA season to begin ... And watching the Minnesota Timberwolves is one of the reasons why.
I am positive the T-Wolves will make the playoffs with a starting lineup featuring Ricky Rubio, Brandon Roy, Kirilenko, Love and Nikola Pekovic, along with subs Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved (who had 16 points and 13 assists in that Russia-Great Britain game), Chase Budinger, Derrick Williams, Dante Cunningham and Greg Stiemsma.
Off the top of my head, I think they can win 50 games too.
I wouldn't be surprised if Kirilenko is right in his assessment that these foreign entities can come together for Minnesota Coach Rick Adelman like Adelman's Sacramento Kings teams did one decade ago.
After all, the secret is out: AK-47 is back ... not that he ever really left us.