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Andrei Kirilenko spent last season out of the NBA playing with CSKA Moscow and winning the Euroleague MVP award, but many fans and pundits balked at the two-year, $20 million contract he signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves. However, Kirilenko’s brilliant run to the bronze medal with Russia silenced his critics, as he was easily the team’s best player.
Looking rejuvenated in his country’s uniform, Kirilenko averaged 17.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.9 steals per game while shooting 54 percent from the field. He was Russia’s first option on offense and one of their best defensive players, and his versatility was instrumental in the team’s shocking run to the medal stand.
He exploded for 35 points against Great Britain and 20 in the bronze-medal match against Argentina while dipping below double digits just once in the tournament. He was also excellent at drawing fouls, making 13 trips to the charity stripe against Brazil, 12 against Lithuania and 10 against Spain.
At 6’9”, Kirilenko was asked to play both forward spots and even some center for this Russian team while providing them with veteran leadership both on and off the court. As Russia’s best defender he was asked to check players like Pau Gasol, Linas Kleiza, Carlos Delfino and Luol Deng thanks to his length, quickness and shot-blocking ability.
Kirilenko scored out of the post and from mid-range consistently, although he did not shoot the three-ball all that well. He used his strong handle and quick first step to attack off the dribble and barrel his way to the rim.
He also paced Russia on the glass both offensively and defensively, highlighted by his 13 boards, five on the offensive end, in the quarterfinals against Lithuania.
There were low expectations for Russia in these Olympic games, but the play of Kirilenko served as a catalyst for their incredible run. Minnesota fans are just praying the former All-Star can keep this momentum rolling into next season.