Utah Jazz: Andrei Kirilenko was better than you remember

Andrei Kirilenko spent 10 of his 14 seasons as a professional basketball player with the Utah Jazz. Still, many Jazz fans forget how incredibly talented he was.

Andrei Kirilenko spent a decade with the Utah Jazz. His time with the franchise certainly left a positive impression in the minds of most Jazz fans — for good reasons, of course.

But even years after he left the Salt Lake Valley, he’s best remembered for his thick Russian accent, supremely lenient wife and a little kid haircut — you know, quirky stuff that doesn’t mean much of anything.

Both inside and outside of Utah, however, if you take a closer look at his career, a case can be made for Kirilenko as one of the NBA’s pioneering big men in the ways of versatility. It won’t happen, but suggesting that he has a shot at the Basketball Hall of Fame isn’t all that far-fetched.

Even at 29 years of age, back in April, Taysom Hill inked a two-year, $21 million extension with the New Orleans Saints — $16 million of which is guaranteed. It’s an entirely different sport, but the hefty payday came about, thanks to Hill’s Swiss Army knife capabilities out on the gridiron.

For the past few years, the NBA’s been trending in a similar direction — at the forward position, most notably. Sizable, athletic forwards who can dominate on both ends of the floor are the white whales all GMs seek to round out their starting five: Robert Covington, Danilo Gallinari, Pascal Siakam, Draymond Green, etc.

Kirilenko fits pretty comfortably in that group, don’t you think?

Without a doubt, his numbers say (more like scream) he does. For his career, not including the year he spent back in Russia with CSKA Moscow, he averaged 11.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. And on defense, between 2004 and 2006, he averaged three blocks per game, as well.

Statistically, his crowning, most eclectic achievement, however, was accomplishing the rare five-by-five on three separate occasions — that’s nabbing at least five points, assists, rebounds, steals, and blocks in 48 minutes of play. Hakeem Olajuwon managed the feat six times in six seasons.

On January 3, 2006, matched up against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Delta Center, Kirilenko made NBA history, posting the league’s first-ever five-by-six stat line in regulation. Come the final whistle, he’d amassed 14 points, nine assists, eight rebounds, six steals and seven blocks.

Though far from flashy, Kirilenko’s brilliance is easily quantifiable — both league-wide and specific to the Jazz franchise, as well. To date, he’s a bonafide leader in the Jazzmen fraternity:

  • Total Jazz Steals – Fourth All-Time (960)
  • Total Jazz Points – Sixth All-Time (8,411)
  • Total Jazz Assists – Fifth All-Time (1,919)
  • Total Jazz Blocks – Second All-Time (1,380)
  • Total Jazz Rebounds – Ninth All-Time (3,836)

Back in March of 2016, during an evening in which the Jazz honored their long-time forward, said Kirilenko of how he hopes to be remembered by Jazz fans and the greater NBA community:

“I think people will remember me as AK-47, which is all-around balanced kind of weapon on the floor. That’s all I’ve been doing. I’ve been trying to go on the floor and give my best. Just hustle out. I didn’t really try to collect any stats. It just kind of happened. I was trying to win the games and that was the bottom line.”

As the old adage claims, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Strangely, though, for Jazz fans and the way they think about Kirilenko’s time in Utah, their hearts likely haven’t grown fond enough — he was that good, but due to his “underground” value, will largely be forgotten.

Don’t let it happen, #TakeNote Nation: long live the memory Kirilenko and Mother Russia.

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