Player Profile: Andrei Kirilenko

Player Profile: Andrei Kirilenko

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Editor’s Note: Throughout the summer, will profile members of the 2012-13 team and take a look at how they performed as well as their preparations for next season. In Part IV, we profile Andrei Kirilenko and how his veteran presence and all-around game impacted the Wolves in his first year with the club.

Andrei Kirilenko wasted little time showing the type of impact he could make on the Timberwolves. From as early as the preseason opener in Fargo against Indiana, Kirilenko unveiled incredible court vision and an intangible presence that he displayed for a decade in Utah before spending the 2011-12 season with CSKA Moscow.

In the first week of the season, he put it on full display, front and center at Target Center.

Kirilenko’s pass to a cutting Chase Budinger with a second left on the clock against Indiana on Nov. 9 was one of the top plays of the year. AK took the inbound, waited for the last second and found Budinger for the game-winning basket—creating one of the loudest noises at Target Center last season in the process.

He’s a do-it-all type player—a guy who is at his best when he can chip in scoring but lead on the stat sheet in other areas. His rebounding from the wing is incredibly valuable, his ability to generate steals and blocks is crucial defensively and his vision and basketball knowledge is perfect for the type of game coach Rick Adelman likes to play. All of the above are big reasons why Kirilenko became the 15th player in league history to join the 1,000 steals, 1,000 blocks and 2,000 assist club during a January game in New Orleans.

“He’s a glue guy that we need,” Williams said. “He’s out there scoring points, rebounding, passing the ball, getting steals, blocking shots. He’s out there filling the stat sheet, man, and you need guys like that on your team. Everybody needs somebody like him.”

Kirilenko is one of the Wolves’ primary decisions this offseason. He signed a two-year deal with a player option prior to last season, and this summer he will have the opportunity to stay with his existing contract or opt out for perhaps a longer deal either with the Wolves or another team.

After a year away, Kirilenko showed why he’s a former All-Star and was a pivotal part of the Utah Jazz organization for a decade.

He came to Minnesota fresh off helping lead Team Russia to the Bronze Medal at the 2012 Olympics, doing so alongside teammate Alexey Shved. He then joined the Wolves along with Shved, and he certainly had a hand in helping the rookie guard become comfortable in the NBA. Shved eventually put together a strong first half of the season and went to the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend in February.

Individually, Kirilenko produced his highest points (12.4), rebounds (5.7) and steals (1.5) per game totals since the 2005-06 season and, by shooting 50.7 percent from the field, registered the best field goal percentage of his career. He did all this at the NBA level while receiving both the 2012 FIBA European Men's Player of the Year and 2012 Euroscar European Player of the Year awards. 

He did anything the Wolves needed him to do on any given night, but if the Wolves are able to remain healthy for a season he has the possibility of really showcasing what he can do. Wolves coach Jack Sikma said Kirilenko is one of the top players in the league when it comes to being effective on both ends of the court, and that shines through the best when he has a collection of two or three primary scorers out there with which he can work.

“Back door cuts, if he does get it he’s a good passer, he reads situations,” Sikma said. “But when we first started playing earlier in the year, when our health was a little bit better, we really saw what he could do. When we got a little skinny with Pek out, Kevin out, Ricky wasn’t where we needed him to be, we had to put the ball in AK’s hands more and create more.”

As a veteran, he showed each day the type of leadership by example that impacted the team in the locker room. He’s a thought-provoking player—a guy who has a special ability to break down plays and give a logical, detailed response. And at times, he does it with a hint of humor. He used the terms “Tricky Ricky” and “Ricky-ness” when describing Rubio at times this year, and he shared interesting nicknames for plays he’s used in his career. For instance, “Spasibo,” which means “Thank You” in Russian, is what he called a play during his early days in Utah when Mark Jackson would send an automatic lob his way.

And when it’s time to put in the work, he does it seamlessly.

“He comes to practice, he does his job,” Sikma said. “You don’t have to worry about him being prepared, any of that stuff. He just does it by his work and his approach.”

Highlight of the Year

Kirilenko’s vision at the end of the Nov. 9 game against Indiana, in which the Wolves won 96-94 on a buzzer-beating layup by Chase Budinger, is a perfect example of the type of impact he makes on the floor. With 3.8 seconds left on the clock and George Hill having just sunk a game-tying 3-pointer on the other end, Luke Ridnour inbounded the ball to Kirilenko outside the paint to the left of the basket. He waited, surveying the court as long as he could, then unleashed a perfect pass to a cutting Budinger for the hoop. It gave the Wolves a victory over the Pacers, who reached the Eastern Conference Finals, and improved Minnesota to 4-1 on the year.

Top Performance of the Year

Statistically, Kirilenko’s best game was likely his 21-point, 11-rebound effort against the Houston Rockets on Jan. 19 at Target Center. That game is best remembered for Chris Johnson and Mickael Gelabale making their Wolves debuts and carrying the team in the fourth quarter, but Kirilenko was an efficient 8-for-11 from the field in that game and added three steals and five offensive boards. He also hit a pair of field goals in the final minute and a half, helping bolster the Wolves’ lead down the stretch. But his most impactful 10-second stretch was likely in the final moments of Minnesota’s 97-95 win over the New Orleans Hornets on March 17. Up a point with six seconds left, Kirilenko blocked Eric Gordon’s would-be go-ahead layup and was fouled grabbing the defensive board. He hit 1-of-2 free throws to put the Wolves up two, then blocked Roger Mason’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer to secure the win.

Offseason Objectives

Kirilenko is a seasoned veteran, and he knows how to prepare himself physically for the upcoming season. His biggest objective this summer will be securing his contract situation for next season. He is one of the team’s best players working away from the ball, and his ability to make plays that may or may not show up on the stats sheet is an asset the Wolves hope to hold onto. Kirilenko returned to the NBA in 2012-13 after spending a year in Russia, and he put together one of his best all-around seasons in seven years. What will he do for an encore in 2013-14?

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