Everyone will talk about Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry, but after witnessing one quarter in their Brooklyn debut, the Nets might very well rely most on Andrei Kirilenko.
Kirilenko did not attempt 20 shots or shoot the lights out, but his proclivity for flashy yet effective passes and stingy defense elevates him to one of the Nets’ most important pieces.
In a conference with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Rudy Gay, and Luol Deng, among others, Kirilenko has his work cut out for him.
“I think he’s going to be a huge asset to this team,” Kevin Garnett said.
People often joke and call him the “Kobe stopper,” or insert any All-Star small forward. But he proved his abilities in Saturday night against the Detroit Pistons. In the first quarter, Kirilenko blocked one shot and stole another. AK-47 even dished out a behind the back pass that would make his head coach proud.
Kirilenko finished the game with four points (1-of-2), four steals, three blocked shots, and two rebounds. He played 20 minutes.
The Nets won’t ask Kirilenko to score many points, although throughout his career he’s proved capable. He boasts a career-high 31 points and played for the 2003-04 Western Conference All-Star team. He’s a career 12.4 ppg scorer. Not Michael Jordan by any stretch, but he can score when asked.
The Nets simply won’t ask him.
At any given time, Kirilenko serves as no more than a tertiary scoring option. Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Brook Lopez, and Jason Terry all command the ball.
“We’re not going to hang our hat on the offensive end, it’s going to be on the defensive end,” new head coach Jason Kidd said.
Pierce echoed those sentiments.
“We want to become a defensive team,” Pierce said. “We want to make that our identity.”
Kirilenko’s defense, something Kidd preached about during training camp, makes him a critical asset.
“You can play him anywhere on the floor,” Garnett said. “I think he could play one through five if you really wanted him to. [There are] very, very few guys that can do that.”
According to reports, the Nets entertained the idea of bringing in Kirilenko for years. Most of that stems from the owner, with whom Kirilenko shares Russian ancestry. This move makes good basketball sense, though. Like Daryl Morey’s version of moneyball, which values players like Shane Battier, Ron Artest, and Carl Landry (in their heydays, of course).
Do more with more, as it were.
Instead of signing one big fish, hook a few medium-sized bass who succeed in certain key areas conducive to winning. Passing, defense, hustle, and loose ball retention all factor into the equation.
“He’s unselfish and can still be aggressive; he’s a playmaker,” Garnett added. “Defensively, he takes costly chances but he’s very understanding of the chances that he does take. He’s very, very smart. We love him.”
As a general manager, find players who do more than one thing well.
Joe Johnson, for example, is an exceptional scorer. He’s made an All-Star career out of being an exceptional scorer, but he doesn’t do much else. Johnson won’t run the floor particularly well or shut down the opposing team’s top scorer. He won’t pass like Rondo or rebound like Howard.
Yet Johnson makes an average yearly salary of $19.6 million. His unadjusted cap number for 2013-14 is $21,466,718.
In Johnson’s defense, he elevates his game in crunch-time and emerged as one of the league’s best closers in 2012-13. He does make more money playing basketball than LeBron, though, both adjusted for the cap and not.
Kirilenko, on the other hand, will garner $6.5 million throughout two seasons in Brooklyn. A pretty good bang for the buck.
And Kidd may need Kirilenko to do more, especially with a starting lineup featuring significant mileage. Even though Williams and Lopez aren’t old compared to Pierce and Garnett, their injury histories suggest otherwise.
Lopez underwent his third foot operation in two seasons this past summer while Williams remains a question mark for the season opener with an ankle injury. Don’t expect Pierce and Garnett to go over 35 minutes very often either, if at all.
One lengthy injury to any of those players and Kidd will call Kirilenko’s number.
Remember coach, No. 47.