The painfully avoidable NBA lockout sparked a chain of repercussions stretching for what we can only assume to be years, but the initial wave of those effects has already come and gone. When the 2011-12 season was derailed before it began by lagging negotiations, dozens of players flocked to alternative leagues overseas.
Among them was the rangy and versatile Andrei Kirilenko, who used his status as an unrestricted free agent to locate a steadier payday than what the locked-out NBA could offer.
But Kirilenko has since returned. After playing 10 seasons for the Utah Jazz—and one for CSKA Moscow—Kirilenko has signed a two-year, $20 million deal to suit up for the Minnesota Timberwolves this season. He's been out of the NBA limelight for a year, but if his performance in the Olympic Games gives any indication whatsoever, we should expect more of the same superb play out of Kirilenko that made his NBA career worthy of note to begin with.
Kirilenko's role for Team Russia was decidedly different than the one he'll take up in Minnesota, but that doesn't make the superlatives in his play any less worthy of note. He finished the Olympic slate as one of the Games' top overall performers, and he did so on a team that featured him as both the offensive and defensive centerpiece.
Russia's offense was held back by the fact that Kirilenko isn't a first-rate shot creator, but he nonetheless was able to manufacture points at a decent enough clip to keep competitive and eventually earn the bronze medal.
His particular brand of do-it-all basketball should fit in wonderfully in Minnesota. Prior to Ricky Rubio's season-ending injury, the Timberwolves were playing an active, encumbering brand of defense that mimics Kirilenko's style of play. Rubio and Kirilenko are fantastic in their defensive anticipation, and if the Wolves' D returns to similar form with Rubio back in the lineup, Kirilenko will only serve to accentuate the system's preexisting strengths.
Additionally, he gives the Wolves an assortment of on-ball options when it comes to defending elite players at virtually every position. Kirilenko may not be particularly well-suited for defending bulky, back-to-the-basket centers, but any other positional archetype is fair game for a player with Kirilenko's length, lateral quickness and instincts. He's officially slotted as a combo forward, but Kirilenko's matchup value on defense is far more broad.
Yet Kirilenko has equally exciting potential within Rick Adelman's offense. The Wolves are staffed with passers to the brim; Rubio is the most exciting distributor, to be sure, but in Kevin Love, Brandon Roy and Alexey Shved (not to mention the more occasional passing stylings of J.J. Barea and Luke Ridnour), Minnesota has an entire core of solid distributors.
That not only makes Kirilenko—a strong positional playmaker in his own right—a natural fit, but also a likely benefactor. Few forwards better understand the intricacies of off-ball movement, and the cutting tutelage of both Jerry Sloan and David Blatt will have AK expertly prepared to benefit from his teammates' unselfishness.
Kirilenko has been out of sight of late, and out of mind while playing for a dwindling Jazz team in the years prior. But this season's Wolves figure to be a must-watch, in part due to the potential gained in Kirilenko's addition.
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