Kirilenko The Latest In Bolstered Wing Play

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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On a busy Friday afternoon, the Timberwolves took the next step in creating a roster primed and ready for a postseason berth in the 2012-13 season.

In the span of an hour, the Wolves announced they had traded former first round pick Wes Johnson to Phoenix to create salary cap space, then announced they’d signed NBA veteran Andrei Kirilenko to a two-year contract that not only adds a former NBA All-Star but also gives Minnesota a much stronger defensive presence on the wing.

Along with shooting guard Alexey Shved and the impending announcement of shooting guard Brandon Roy, the trio of new additions in Minnesota have quickly shaped last year’s inconsistent perimeter play into what President of Basketball Operations David Kahn hopes will be a strength next season.

“[Kirilenko] is athletic, hits all the boxes of what we were looking for in terms of the kind of player that we frankly felt we didn’t have on the roster,” Kahn said. “Someone who is capable of playing multiple positions, somebody who is capable of being efficient and able to score without plays being run for him. He’s a very hard cutter, which we feel in our offense will be welcomed additions.”

Kahn said after Nicolas Batum’s offer sheet was matched by Portland, Kirilenko was the next small forward on the team’s wish list. He said Kirilenko was pursued by other teams, but the Wolves’ young lineup coupled with coach Rick Adelman’s ability on the sidelines were two big reasons for his interest in Minnesota.

Kahn and Adelman said the day after Minnesota’s regular season finale that changes were on the horizon, that only Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio were cornerstones who would not be moved and that the team hoped to get more stable play from their wing players.

That led to a flurry of offseason moves that to date includes trading Wes Johnson and Wayne Ellington, trading for Chase Budinger, signing Kirilenko and drafting Robbie Hummel. That, along with not signing Michael Beasley’s qualifying offer and waiving Martell Webster means this year’s perimeter play will look significantly different than last.

Last season, Johnson played in 65 of the team’s 66 games and scored 6.0 points per game. he shot 31.4 percent from 3-point range and only reached the free throw line 92 times. Webster averaged 6.9 points per game and shot 33.9 percent from 3-point land.

This season, the Wolves are gearing up for additional help from the wing—both beyond the arc and defensively. Budinger averaged 9.6 points in 22.4 minutes per game, and he shot 40.2 percent from 3-point land a year ago. Kirilenko is not a 3-point threat, but he did average 12.4 points per game for his career and has a defensive pedigree. He averaged more than 3.0 blocks per game for two consecutive seasons in 2003-04 and 2004-05, and he brings a career 47.0 career field goal percentage.

Kahn said now that Kirilenko is signed, coupled with the expected signings next week, the heavy lifting in this free agent season is likely done. But Kahn said the team will wait to see if any injuries happen during the Olympics before focusing in on what he called “Round 2” of this year’s free agency.

“I think our roster, if we were to use a word, is versatile,” Kahn said. “We have a number of players who can play a number of positions. If Rick wants to go for a bigger look, he can go big. If he wants to go for a smaller look, he can go small.”

Kirilenko was unavailable for comment on Friday, but in an interview with Pavel Osipov of Sport-Express on Thursday, translated by Alexander Chernykh of chernykh.wordpress.com, he talked about why he chose the Timberwolves. The veteran forward said Kevin Love stands out, transforming from a great player into a superstar last season. His presence, along with the way Rick Adelman’s coaching style impressed him while in Sacramento in the 2000s, was a major factor in his decision.

“Anybody on that team could score, make passes and defend,” Kirilenko said of Adelman’s Kings teams. “You may want to call it total basketball, just like the way Netherlands’ national team played soccer.”

Kirilenko becomes the fifth international player featured on the Wolves’ roster and the fourth hailing from Europe. He said there is a higher level of basketball IQ in the European style of basketball, and he said it will be great playing with players familiar with that type of game.

One of those players is Ricky Rubio, with whom Kirilenko said he’ll get acquainted on the basketball court very soon.

“I trust Adelman’s talent; he will definitely find the right role for me,” Kirilenko said in the interview with Osipov. “His previous clubs, Sacramento and Houston, had a lot of substance in their game.”

Kahn said Friday that Adelman’s ability to adapt to his players was a big part of the equation. He said the way that he has changed his game plans based on the varying personnel he’s had on teams in Portland, Sacramento and Houston, he sees this vast change in Minnesota’s locker room from last season to this season as being something Adelman can handle smoothly.

As of Friday, excluding unrestricted free agent Anthony Tolliver, seven of the 15 players on last year’s roster are still with the Timberwolves.

“I do believe what we can do next year with this group, probably more so than we did before, is we have multiple ball handlers at multiple positions,” Kahn said. “We have a lot of different looks now that we can throw at people.”


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