Andrei Kirilenko: The Resurgence of the Utah Jazz X-Factor

A shell of my former selfCorrespondent IFebruary 9, 2010

DENVER - OCTOBER 28:  Andrei Kirilenko #47 of the Utah Jazz awaits a free throw against the Denver Nuggets during NBA action at Pepsi Center on October 28, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Jazz 114-105.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Talk about your second-coming.

It has been quite a while since the Utah Jazz have played up to their level of abilities.

Most commonly, they play down to the Minnesotas and Sacramentos and up to the Clevelands and Kobe's squad.

While the Jazz are arguably one of the deepest teams in the NBA, they suffered from some sort of mysterious ailment that no fan or journalist in their right mind could figure. 

Until now.

The Jazz were suffering from underachieveism . It's a degenerate disease that eats away at the chemistry of a talented roster.

Many teams have fallen victim to the illness. Some unable to be restored to their former status.

As of right now, the Jazz have kicked that flu-bug to the curb. 

Good thing, too.

They're back. 

So, how did the Jazz avoid jumping the shark?

Not too hard to find an answer. Quite simple, actually. 

Look no further than a gangly, wiry forward, who's currently sporting some sort of fifth-grade hairdo. 

Andrei Kirilenko is back. 

And so are his Jazz.

After Utah's 116-106 win over rival Denver last week, Nuggets head coach George Karl said that's the best he'd seen Kirilenko since his All-Star run.

Any basketball enthusiast could've told you that if they'd been paying any attention to the resurgent Jazz.

Also: The Jazz are currently on a eight-game winning streak and have catapulted themselves into sole possession of third place in the rough—and—tumble Western Conference.

Now the revitalization in Utah hasn't been purely Kirilenko's return to form. It's a plethora of right things going in the right direction at the right time.

The Jazz bench is playing phenomenally, getting a double—digit output by one or more players each and every game. 

Defensively, Utah is more active than its been in....

...Seriously, still thinking.

When Carlos Boozer pulled up lame (surprise, surprise), Paul Millsap step in and cemented his contract that was matched this summer. 

Millsap's line as a two-game starter: 28.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and four assists per. 

Wes Matthews, CJ Miles, Ronnie Brewer, Ronnie Price, and on and on and on have made quality contributions. 

No need to have to mention Deron Williams. It's a given.

Which brings us back to Kirilenko. He was supposed to be the super-sub off a super bench at the disposal of coach Jerry Sloan.

Miles and Matthews had their hands in the starter's pot. It worked. Then it didn't.

The Jazz needed a jumpstart. Who else but the most erratic, yet energetic player on the team?

Sloan said Kirilenko would start. 

And since then, off they went. 

During this crazy eight game streak, Utah is averaging a blistering 111.2 points per outing. 

Remember, two of those wins were minus Boozer. One minus Williams.

Kirilenko has been more than a breath of fresh air. He's been a guy that's accepted his role. 

And he's relishing. All he needed was a tiny push. 

He's flown. 

During the streak, Kirilenko is 57-of-79 from the field. That's 72 percent from the field from a guy that has been in love with his jump shot for the past two seasons. 

That is a stat worth admiring and contemplating.

How has Kirilenko been resuscitated? 

For one, he's disrupting each and every passing lane. He's blocking shots. He's running without the ball. He's running with the ball. He's slashing. He's cutting.

He's dunking. He's shooting—effectively.

He's finally proving himself to be the quintessential X-Factor for a team that needs it more so than any other team in the league.

Kirilenko is Utah's Manu Ginobili. 

On a team that is so disciplined, introducing a little anarchy is a perfection in and of itself.

Trying to figure out what is circling around in the brain of Kirilenko on the court is something most opponents wish they knew. 

No one really does. 

He's just out there, using his superior athleticism, court vision, and tads of unforeseen magic to lift his team.

And what a turn around it has been.

A few years ago, Kirilenko broke down into tears during a off-day shootaround in Houston. He wasn't helping his team. He wanted to, more than anything. 

Kirilenko and Sloan are polar opposites.

Sloan is all business, all the time. Winning is the bottomline.

Kirilenko is, at times, a bit more fragile, knowing that if he can be possessed by a boatload of energy and confidence, he can do anything. 

Confidence is what drives the stringy Russian forward.

Dabble him in some of that and he'll fly you to the moon and back.

That's where the Jazz are right now. Flying high.

Unfortunately, the All-Star break, generally a sigh of relief for NBA'ers who need a break from it all, is in sight and preparing to mess with the mojo they've got going on in Utah right now.

To be frank, that really doesn't matter. Not if they have Kirilenko back to the days of AK-47. 

The Jazz will go as far as Kirilenko can take them. Not Williams, not Boozer, not Millsap.

Andrei Kirilenko is the ace in the hole. You never know what you'll get out of him on a daily basis.

As long as Utah finds belief in his convictions and mettle, they're going to be that team that no one wants to play come June. 

Not February.


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