Why Andrei Kirilenko is the best player on the Utah Jazz



With all apologies to Deron Williams, who is the heart and soul of the Utah Jazz, Andrei Kirilenko has been the best Jazz player this season.  That is no slight to Deron, who I expect will be back to health by the end of the season and who's leadership on this team isn't always measured by stats, but Kirilenko's rebirth as a 6th man in the NBA has been refreshing to Jazz fans everywhere.  But I wonder if Jazz fans realize how well he is playing right now.  Allow me to make his case as the MVP of the Jazz so far this season:

1. He is the best defensive player on the team.   Are there any arguments here?  This fact is probably the easiest to back up.  To the naked eye, he is one of the most active players defensively on the floor at almost all times.  And he can, most times, be a one-on one lock down defender.  He leads the team in blocks (1.3/ game) or is 2nd place behind Kosta Kofous if you look at blocks/ 48 minutes.  He is 2nd best on the team in steals (1.45/ game) any way you cut it behind Ronnie Brewer.  He is a very good rebounder for a small forward with almost 6 boards a game.  You can argue another Jazz player is a better defender, but I don't know that you would get very far.

But here's the kicker:

2. AK-47 is arguably the best offensive player on the Jazz.  Now before you laugh, you must realize that AK is certainly the most efficient offensive player on the team.  His offensive numbers ( 12.6 points, 3.4 assists, and 1.7 offensive rebounds) are impressive when you consider that he rarely has the ball in his hands and shoots less often than 10 other Jazz players.  In fact, AK takes a shot every 3.6 minutes he's on the floor compared to the most shot-happy player on the team, Carlos Boozer who shoots every 2.3 minutes.  He is 3rd on the team in field goal percentage (48 %) and has the most assists for a player that isn't a point guard.  Click here for a more in-depth look at the Jazz offense. 

But the thing that might be the most impressive is how often he gets to the free throw line.  John Hollinger mentioned that Andrei gets to the free throw line more than he used to, last week in his "most surprising performances" piece.  I decided to look into this statistic.  Getting to the free throw line is so important, because free throws are free points if you make them and it gives you a chance to get everyone back on defense.  I will warn you: these free throw stats are surprising. 

Andrei Kirilenko shoots a free throw every 5.15 minutes that he is on the floor.  He shot one every 8.5 minutes last season.  This statistic leads the Jazz with Boozer shooting a free throw every 6.2 minutes for second place.  The average free throws/minute for each Jazz player is 10.7.  And just to put it into perspective, Kobe Bryant only shoots a free throw every 5.2 minutes so AK gets to the line more often than Kobe right now.  Add the fact that Kirilenko is second on the team in free throw percentage at 82% (and even better than Korver this season) and that makes Andrei's free throws even more important.

I think without statistics, Jazz fans have noticed that the Jazz are a better team with Andrei Kirilenko on the floor.  He provides energy, excitement and tough defense.  I believe the statistics back up how important he is to the team.  All of the injuries have been difficult, but we have seen that we have good backups at the point guard and power forward positions.  It is a different story at the small forward position. News is that Andrei will play tonight against the Raptors.  If he does, I fully expect us to play much better than we have the past few games and I expect a win.

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