Myth Busting the NBA: Is AK-47 really gone? Is Andrei now a role player?

The casual fan probably only has vague memories of Andrei Kirilenko being a dynamic force on both ends of the court. Most probably only know of him because of his awesome wife (@MashK forever!), because of his emotional outburst during the playoffs years ago, and because Baron Davis dunked on him once. Casual fans don’t really follow every NBA team, so they do have an reason but to believe that Andrei is now a role player.

Kirilenko fans contend that he is vital, but had to adjust his game due to being moved out of the paint because Carlos Boozer arrived on the scene. Kirilenko detractors feel like he is but a shadow of his former self, and the sooner the Jazz move on the better.

Is Ak-47 really gone? Is Andrei now a role player? Let’s check out this premise and see if it is valid or can be busted.

As with my previous Myth Busting the NBA post (Is Deron Williams really a better shooter than Chris Paul?), I wanted to see if this was indeed the case. NBA websites and the general opinion of fans I interact with from other teams seem to feel like Kirilenko is not worth the playing time. Some Jazz fans will go to no length to disparage his name online as well. I am not one of them.

I love Andrei, and he’s the last remaining playing link on the Jazz from the Stockton and Malone era. More than sentimentality, Andrei is still a terror when he gets playing time.

The myth is that he’s no longer the same player after his emotional outburst, and that all the years and injuries have made him less of a player. I don’t believe that this is true. Instead, I think that his significantly lowered playing time has more to do with it than anything else. As a result, in this experiment we’re going to look at playing time as the variable.

The control group would be his cumulative regular season statistics from the 2003-2004, 2004-2005, and 2005-2006 campaigns. His age range was 22 to 24 during this time and he was an All-Star and highly regarded by the media back then. These were the three best seasons of his career, and what we would call his peak.

Of note is the point that during this time period (three seasons) he averaged 36.426 minutes per game, over 188 regular season games.

The following years his role has diminished significantly, and injuries have shortened his seasons. The premise is that he became a worse player at this time – not that there were any other factors (like playing time, role, and so forth) that mattered.

As a result, the first experimental group would have to be his playing production from the ages of 25 till 28. These seasons starting from 2006-2007 till the present day mark a decline from his peak years, but they also mark a completely different emphasis of the team from AK towards Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams and Mehmet Okur. All fine players, but their prominence changed Andrei’s role quite a bit. The man responsible for his role change also jacked around with his minutes per game, and also his starting position on the team. Over all, it was a mess.

Setting it all up

If Andrei really is a bad player now (the year he cried till today) then the statistics would prove it. In Andrei’s best seasons he averaged 36+ mpg. So, in order to best judge apples to apples we have to look at games where Andrei is actually playing around the same number of minutes.

Thus, this first experimental group is all the games Andrei played where he got starters minutes. This group is 151 games large, and in it, Andrei plays on average 35.033 mpg. This period includes playoff games as well as regular season games.

All in all, 188 games @ 36.436 mpg when Andrei was 22-24 years old is pretty much apples to apples to 151 games @ 35.033 mpg when Andrei was between the ages of 25 and 28 years old. Sure, the control group (his best years) is going to be higher because he was younger, played a different role and had more minutes. But, the experiment here is not to judge who was better (it almost HAS to be young Andrei, right?), but whether or not old Andrei has stats that are similar to young Andrei.

If young Andrei was a good player, an All-Star, and highly regarded – then an old Andrei with similar numbers should similarly be a good player; you know, unless you are a hypocrite or something.

The second experimental group is necessary lest someone become upset with my apples to apples comparison. (How dare he try to defend his point of view with a valid comparison!) Since that may very well be the case, the second group is Andrei’s play last season from games 41 to 82. (His best stretch of the season, when he was getting regular playing time, and included all the games and not picking and choosing just the ones where he was getting starters minutes)

Frankly, I felt like Andrei’s play did not decline, and that it was his playing time and role change that predicated his statistical decline. Was I right, or wrong?

The Numbers

So, by now you may be familiar with these little charts. Anyway, the first column is the control group (Andrei’s three best seasons all together). The second column is Old Andrei playing in games from 2006-2007 till today, but only in games where he played 30+ minutes or more.

You seriously need to look up at those stats again. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

In Andrei’s best years (when he was the man, and young, and injury free, and playing PF) this was his line: 15.8 ppg (48.9 eFG%, 6.6 fta per game), 1.431 shooting worth, 7.6 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.7 spg, and 3.0 bpg. That’s amazing. You know what’s also amazing? That in his ‘so called’ crappy years he put up 13.0 ppg (51.7 eFG%, 4.7 fta per game), 1.439 shooting worth, 5.8 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.5 spg, and 1.9 bpg. So between his peak years and his crappy years he produced -2.8 ppg, -1.8 rpg, +0.16 apg, -0.2 spg, -1.1 bpg. Oh yeah, and he shot better as Old Andrei. And he played less minutes and was farther from the paint, which reduces his chances at boards and blocks. You think Andrei would have had a chance to score 3 more ppg and 2 more rpg Boozer wasn’t in town?

Wait, wait, hold up . . .

I know what you are saying. "No sir, I don’t like it." Fine, you think I cherry picked games over the last 4 seasons to make it look like Andrei was still half decent. I get it. You think that by showing Andrei‘s production over the last few seasons when he gets starters minutes unfairly supports the idea that he can produce starter like stats akin to his peak years, aka when he didn’t "suck", if only he gets starter like minutes. Yes, I just called people who don’t like the first experimental group evidence ‘big, fat hypocrites’.

Fine, the second experimental group then . . .

These are the stats that Andrei got in non-cherry picked minutes (e.g. all minutes, not just ones where he plays starter like minutes), for all the games Andrei played in, in the final 42 games of last season. The chart is the same as above, but now there’s a third column. The last column is Old Andrei from this very last season, playing in the last 42 games of the jazz season, at all minutes (not just 30+ mpg). You may need to avert your eyes from the explosion of this myth being busted open.

As we all got to see earlier this month thanks to Moni (or @Moni__ on twitter), "Old Andrei" still has plenty of Ak-47 left in him. These stats really display this as well. His GO Rating is almost the same as his peak years, while playing 6.968 minutes less a game, *and* at SF, *and* with Boozer and crew making him a 4th option. Yes, he’s still -2.8 ppg down, and has less rebounds and blocks as he used to. But he never shot better in his life. You’re a pretty darn good player if you have an eFG% of 57.656% and shooting 80% from the line. These are not the stats of a role player. A role player doesn’t have a Shooting Worth of 1.498 and steals 1.917 times a game. This is a complete player, more than a role player – but a true starter. Heck, even with a change in his role, he’s a star again.

Conclusion

The myth that Andrei is a role player is busted. He’s still AK-47. The changes in his statistical output were products of changing his role, getting him out of the paint, and limiting his minutes. His lower stats were NOT a part of a general decline in his ability. He did not ‘magically’ turn into a player who sucks. Even today in limited minutes he manages to do things exceptionally well. Yes, he’s not blocking three shots a game anymore. Quick Quiz: How many players in the league are, though? Answer: No one since 2006-2007.

Post-Script: More about Defensive Gambling and Pure Hustle

You’ve seen these categories on the bottom of these stat sheets for a while know. You probably don’t even know what they are. The majority of the stat break downs this off season have involved guys who aren’t particularly known for their defense or hustle (Boozer, Al Jefferson, etc). As a result, I really had no reason to explain what these were. When dealing with ANYTHING Andrei, these stats need to be explained.

Defensive Gambling is a ratio that balances risk taking behavior on defense with being caught. In a simple way, this is the numerical balance to how many times a player successfully takes a risk to block a shot or steal a ball against getting called for a foul.

What is a good score for this? Well, in our common era, the all-time paragon perimeter defender is Scottie Pippen. When people think of lockdown, long armed, SF/SGs who get a lot of steals and make smart ‘Defense gambles’ you think of him. Right? I don’t think that this can be argued at all. You’re not going to suggest that the paragon for our era is Charles Barkley or John Starks or anyone like that. It’s Scottie Pippen. He’s in the Hall of Fame, damn it!

What, pray tell, is Pippen’s Defensive Gambling score? It’s 1.409. So the paragon defender of our era gets that score. That must be the score by which we judge everyone else by. Another score? Well, Jerry Sloan was known as a tough defender as well. His Defensive Gambling score was 0.966 (for his last 3 seasons, there is no steals or blocks data for his earlier career). So, one of the toughest defenders of his era on his last legs, aka when he "sucks" as Andrei is accused of, gets a score of basically 1.00.

Thus, the range of awesome to ‘former great defender’ is from 1.409 to 1.000.

In Andrei’s peak years his defensive gambling was 2.794. Yes, look back at the stat blocks, it’s there in each of them. That is an insanely high score. At his peak, Andrei blows the career average of Pippen as a defender out of the water.

In experimental group one, Andrei still does this with a DG value of 1.993. That’s double Jerry Sloan. (Sometimes I wish Jerry read this blog just so he can see the truth in this) That 1.993 is of "old / sucky Andrei", and it’s still way better than Pippen’s (+41.44% better).

Even the last group, the data from just the 2nd half of this past regular season Andrei’s DG goes back up to 2.342. This is very close to his peak years. This is also an insanely high score. Remember, the Gold Standard Scottie Pippen is 1.409. Andrei is still really awesome at making smart gambles. For giggles look at some of the previous posts of mine that have these stat blocks and see what people get.

Pure Hustle

Pure Hustle is another ratio. It’s measuring (a weighted) production of Blocks, Steals and Offensive rebounds against Fouls and Turn Overs.

Scottie Pippen (again, one of the best defenders of all time, and the Gold Standard Hall of Fame lock down Small Forward) has a Pure Hustle score of 1.093. Dennis Rodman gets a PH value of 1.80. Without beating your head on this, Andrei’s peak is 1.966, first experimental group is 1.493, and last season’s 1.824. While Andrei may not be quite as good as he was at his peak (you know, when he was All-NBA Defense and an All-Star), the reduction of his ppg by 2.8, rpg by 1.8, and bpg by 1.1 does not make him a bad player by any means. Take Boozer out of there and you still have the same old Andrei. These advanced defensive statistics also go out and prove that Andrei Kirlenko is still a very dangerous Russian.

Myth severely busted.

до свидания навсегда, ненавистники

[Edited twice now because I am dumb, thank you to you posters in the comments section!]

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