When the Nets signed Andrei Kirilenko to a contact last summer, the general consensus was that Brooklyn committed strong-arm robbery. They were paying about $3 million per year for a player who not only filled out the back of his basketball card, but also did things on the court that would not appear on the stat sheet. Some even suggested there was a shady Russian deal on the side. Fast forward to today, and the Nets may have overpaid.
Coming off arguably his worst season as a pro, the Nets envisioned a bounce back season for AK-47. He had an impressive preseason and head coach Lionel Hollins expected the veteran to have a substantial role in his new system. Even Kirilenko thought an increase role was all but certain.
Somewhere along the line things changed and so far this season, Kirilenko has been relegated to the bench. Though he has played in all four games, Kirilenko has averaged only 6.8 minutes, with 10 minutes being his high water mark in the season opener against Boston. Most of the minutes he has played are in inconsequential garbage time. Ever the stat sheet filler, Kirilenko's averages are less than one in points, assists and steals. His PER currently sits at miniscule 3.4.
It seems like Hollins prefers Alan Anderson to Kirilenko. Anderson can certainly defend well, and his offensive game is much better than Kirilenko's at this point in their careers. The Nets like to whip the ball around the perimeter, so Anderson's range fits better in their offensive scheme. Hollins is also keeping his rotation pretty tight, playing eight or nine guys. Kirilenko seems to be on the losing end of the numbers game was well.
During Wednesday night's game, Kirilenko was waiting at half-court to come into the game for the first time towards the end of the third quarter. He was promptly returned back to the bench before he had a chance to enter the game. Though he eventually entered the game shortly thereafter (an uninspiring five minutes that included a couple of turnovers and a block that sent his shot 25 feet into the stands), the frustration on Kirilenko's face when he was yanked was apparent.
“I think Kirilenko is a pro and he’ll handle everything well,” Hollins said Saturday. “It’s life and it’s the league. We all have expectations, and things don’t always shake out the way we’d like them to. It’s still early in the season. I can’t say that everything will stay the same when we get to February and March, I don’t know.
“But as it is now you have to be professional, and he has been professional and he has handled it and everybody has expectations and hopes of playing a lot. He wouldn’t be any different, and he worked really hard to get in shape and get ready and it’s the way I’ve decided to go with the rotation. I always say there’s one or two guys that don’t get to play that probably deserve to play.”
Once a potentially important cog in the rotation, Kirilenko is right now a frustrated, end-of-the-bench player.