Countdown to Tipoff: Andrei Kirilenko
Editor’s note: In the days leading up to Friday’s regular season opener against the Kings, Timberwolves.com will highlight three new members of the Wolves’ team that fans will see during the 2012-13 campaign. Minnesota faces Sacramento at 7 p.m. on Friday at Target Center. The game will be televised on My 29 and broadcast on the radio at 830 WCCO-AM.
Web Editorial Associate
Kirilenko’s pass-to-assist didn’t show up in the game’s traditional box score, and Love got the recognition on SportsCenter. But there’s no denying that Kirilenko sparked that play and helped gain two points for Minnesota.
So what is it about his court vision that is so effective? According to Alexey Shved, who played with Kirilenko in Russia before coming to Minnesota, Kirilenko’s basketball instincts are top-notch.
“He’s a big guy, but his passing ability is like a point guard’s,” Shved said after Thursday’s practice. “He can do everything—make points, run and defend. We played the last two summers, and for us it’s easy to stay together. I know when he’s cutting, when he’s staying, when he’s moving. We don’t even speak about it.”
For Kirilenko himself, the instinct is very natural.
“It’s a natural reaction for me,” Kirilenko said. “I don’t know why. As soon as you get a ball, you have to see the picture of the floor. That’s how the game goes.”
When he receives the ball, think of a quarterback. His head is on a swivel, and he’s looking at his teammates’ movement and how the defense reacts.
“I am looking at personnel first,” Kirilenko said. “Who is running, how they are running. Some people have advantages, then I throw it right away. You have a split-second to decide. It’s a matter of timing; sometimes it helps to pause a couple seconds and then pass. When you see the defensive player roll his head around, then you pass the ball.”
Two legendary point guards had a large influence on Kirilenko during his early years with the Utah Jazz—John Stockton and Mark Jackson, the No. 1 and 3 all-time NBA career assist leaders, respectively.
“It helps to play with teammates like John Stockton and Mark Jackson, two of the best passers in league history,” Kirilenko said. “You pick up things like not only passing, but moving without the ball—because they are going to find you.
“The last couple years with Deron (Williams), he was the same type of point guard. He’d look for the pass right away.”
Kirilenko’s passing wasn’t something that stood out to coach Rick Adelman when he and the Minnesota front office were looking at acquiring him. Rather, it was one facet in an impressive package of skills.
“[The passing] was part of it,” Adelman reflected. “He’s a good all-around player. We knew that. And the teams that he was on always did pass the ball well.”
Now that Kirilenko has landed with the Timberwolves after a season back in Russia, he returns with a familiar face—Shved, who he has played with both on the Russian national team and the CSKA Moscow club. The two players are helping blend their styles in with the other Timberwolves, and so far, so good.
“With Alexey, at the beginning of preseason we worked with Kevin [Love] a lot on the little things. A lot of sets we have, Kevin has so many opportunities to get a cut and get open. Again, it’s a process. You have to talk with your partners and let them know that you are going to look for the pass. [Nikola] Pekovic, Greg [Stiemsma], when they screen, they have to look at me. If their guy helps, they have to get that ball.”
And as more time goes by, the passing among teammates will only improve.
“The chemistry is great right now,” Kirilenko added. “The locker room is unbelievable. I think it’s more gameplan and execution that we are still learning and processing. It’s always tough to be ready in one month. It’s tough to build a team right away, but we’re getting there.”