Friday, October 24, 2008

Flashback Friday: Andrei back when he was AK-47

Once upon a time, there was a promising young forward who was all over the court, blocking shots, catching alley-oop passes and making crazy passes. Fast forward through a few injury plagued years, one trip to the All-Star game, and numerous role changes and we have a new incarnation of Andrei Kirilenko -- the dynamic pass first Point Forward springing to life off the bench to wreck havoc like the monster created out of the mind of Coach David Blatt.

Unlike what some people think, Andrei's ego didn't explode by being 'benched', nor did the former MVP of Europe (2007) cry about it at all. His own team owner said that Andrei is all about winning, and will do whatever it takes to win. If coming off the bench is going to help the team win, he will do so. This isn't the Andrei is the 6th man article though, this is the Andrei as a player article . . .

You know this guy . . . he just plays less now

A major criticism that I find to be very unfounded (and confounding) is that some people don't think Andrei plays with heart anymore; and that his statistically inferior recent seasons are bereft of desire. (If he didn't care why did he cry a few seasons ago about not being able to help the team?) They look at the stat differences from the good old days and now and they think that it's simply an effort issue. I looked at the stats, I looked at the stats harder than they did (I spent over two days looking over 258 games over the 2003-2004, 2004-2005, 2005-2006, 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 seasons). It's not an effort issue. It's a playing time and role issue.

A youngster An All-Star An MVP and Champion Mr. Everything on D A 6th man?
What AD did for Karl, Karl tried to do for AK His All-Star selection was not a fluke, give him the minutes and watch him go He brought pride back to Russian Basketball . . . photo by LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images) Mr. Everything on D . . . the man with no name on Offense Terminal evolutionary change as a 6th man point forward?

Sure, there are other factors at play, like the quality of the roster, the number of shots he takes, the shift from power forward to small forward and the like . . . but there is a very visceral consistency in his play over the last five seasons (his All-Star year till now) when you view his stats in games where he plays around the same number of minutes. Sure, his season averages look like they are going down, but Andrei is actually improving in some ways -- it's just that his minutes have gone all over the place the last few seasons, from 37 one season to under 30 the next. (Really, this happened -- 37.7 mpg in 2005-2006 and 29.3 mpg in 2006-2007.)

When he was an All-Star (and averaged over 37 mpg) back in 2003-2004 he was on a team without Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, Deron Williams, or young guys like Paul Millsap and Ronnie Brewer. He was the only guy with real talent, and had to do a lot of everything. His season averages were (with rounding) 15.5 ppg, 8 rpg, 3 apg, 3 bpg and 2 spg -- all the while his points to FGA ratio was 1.31.

Last season, 2007-2008, on a team with Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, Deron Williams, with younger players like Paul Millsap and Ronnie Brewer he played the three, instead of the four as an all-star. In games where he played more than 35 mpg (and he played in quite a few and in those games averaged 37 mpg, just like his All-Star season) he averaged 14.5 ppg, 6 rpg, 5 apg, 2 bpg and 2 spg. (again, rounded up and down accordingly)

  MPG PPG FGA Points/FGA Rebounds Assists Blocks Steals
2003-2004 37 15.5 12 1.3 8 3 3 2
2007-2008 37 14.5 9.5 1.5 6 5 2 2
    -1 -2.5 +0.2 -2 +2 -1  

What's the difference? He's not playing inside anymore (and he has more competition for boards and blocks) and ended up getting 2 less boards and 1 less block. Guys get less rebounds and blocks when they are defending the three point line instead of the paint. [Though this point is debatable...] He scored less, but he shot less (2.5 less FGA per game, and his points/FGA ratio was actually higher -- 1.5 to 1.3 when he was an All-Star) as well. The only other difference was that he got 2 more APG.

I could (if I wanted to), present the full breakdown from each season, and each different playing time block (all games, only games where he played 30+ mpg, only games where he played 35+ mpg, only games where he played 38+ mpg, or only games where he played 40+ mpg) . . . but I don't need to belabor the point here. Every season for every playing time block since his all-star season his AVERAGE in points / FGA has been between 1.4 and 1.5. His rebounds have been between 6 and 8. His blocks between 2 and 3, his steals between 1.5 and 2, and his points between 13 ppg and 16 ppg. [If you've been following along, those are the same numbers that he has now when playing those many minutes]

His teammates make a little bit of difference, as does his role -- but the major variable in his production is time. Not between 35 mpg and 38 mpg . . . but between playing 35 mpg and playing less than that. (It's a bigger jump than between playing 30 mpg and less than 30 mpg surprisingly!)

Long story short, Andrei isn't a worse player. He's shooting less (he used to shoot it 12 times a game, the season where he cried he shot it 6 times a game and was playing 8 mpg less); and more than anything else -- he is playing much less than he used to. When he gets to play the same amount of time as he used to, he produces similar statistical results. (Again, this is not opinion, I worked it out between season stats, and the stats for the past 5 years where he played 30+ mpg, 35+ mpg, 38+ mpg and 40+ mpg . . . but he's not going to get a shot to average 38 mpg over a season, so basically I just did more work than I needed to.)

He's the same guy, he just has an insanely high contract that he could never justify, especially when his coach changes around what position he plays, or how many minutes he gets to play. He shouldn't be playing 30 mpg, especially not when a lot of that time on the floor has him just watching other guys handle the ball and shoot. But I'm getting ahead of myself here . . .

If he gets enough time he has shown that even with a stacked roster, and on a winning team, he can get crazy stats. Or at least, stats that are very similar to what he used to put up in his All-Star year. He's a consistent producer when he gets consistent minutes. He's actually gotten better as a distributor over the years.

I wonder why some people still think that he's gotten so much worse? Just because his Coach doesn't play him enough minutes? That's a poor reason.