Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports
As Andrei Kirilenko comes into town, it's time to look at the most underrated seasons by a Jazzman since the departures of 12 and 32.
Andrei Kirilenko comes back to Salt Lake City Wednesday night, and Jazz fans get a chance to see history: as David Locke pointed out, Andrei's 681 games played in Utah is the most of any player who has then come back to play in ESA against the Jazz. This, in turn, led me to look up some of Kirilenko's successes in Utah. I thought I'd compile his underrated season against some of the other more underrated seasons in recent Jazz history to find where Andrei Kirilenko's stacks up.
5. Paul Millsap's 2011-2012 season
I've talked a lot about how good Millsap was last season. I've used his name 99 times in the last 4 months in my posts, only exceeded by Favors' 117 mentions. The point remains: he was Utah's best player last year, and he did so by basically doing it all. Millsap led the team in WS, finished second and PER, and had a completely ridiculous 14.42 positive adjusted plus/minus. There's this perception that he started the year hot and then fell off, but some of his best performances were when the team needed him most as we pushed for the playoffs, including some game-saving or game winning shots in the final weeks. For more reading on how good Millsap was last season, click on any of these words.
4. Jeremy Evans' 2010-2011 season
It's hard to give too much credence to a season in which a player played only 463 minutes, but in Jeremy Evans' rookie season, he was pretty impressive, mostly by shooting 66.1% from the floor. Yes, 75% of those shots were at the rim, but this was the only season in which he flashed any offensive ability besides putbacks and dunks: Evans took 36 shots outside the rim in this season(making 18), compared to just 15 total since(making only 3). These weren't just garbage-time minutes: Evans actually averaged more than 9 minutes per game in this season, and by the end of the season, in March and April, he was averaging 15 MPG. It wasn't much, but Evans actually totaled more Win Shares after the Deron trade than Derrick Favors did. Evans has disappointingly regressed, but this season, he looked to have a great future with the Jazz.
3. Carlos Boozer's 2006-07 season
Carlos Boozer gets a lot of abuse for his time in Utah, but when he could play, he was a fantastic player. The 2006-07 season, when the Jazz went to the Western Conference Finals, was his best year: Boozer was incredibly impactful. Somehow, he shot 56% from the floor, doing it from all areas: he shot above the league average rate at the rim, from 3-9 feet, from 10-15 feet, and from 16-23 feet. This is even more remarkable given that he was using a team-high 26.5% of team possessions. His efficiency and volume led the team to being the 3rd best offensive team in the league in 2006-07.
The other parts of his game were underrated as well. He garnered 11.7 rebounds per game, finishing 4th in the league in RPG and 3rd in rebound percentage. Again, his contributions mean the Jazz were the 4th best defensive rebounding team in the NBA and the best offensive rebounding team. His help defense deservedly got a lot of criticism, but as a man-to-man defender, he didn't seem to be too bad: a 15.6 opposing PER according to 82games. He finished with a 26.3 PER himself.
Of course, what's really remarkable is that he kept it up through the 17 game playoffs: most player individual statistics falter during the increased defensive pressure of the playoffs, Boozer instead scored more points, gathered more rebounds, and kept his percentages high. That meant that, on top of the 9.9 WS he achieved during the season itself, he gets credit for 2.5 of the Jazz wins, and if possible, was even more clutch than that: his 35 point, 14 rebound, 5 assist performance should get credit as one of the better player performances by a Jazzman in the playoffs. Boozer added a ton of value to the Jazz, and doesn't get enough credit as the reason for the Jazz' falloff after his departure in free agency.
2. Ronnie Brewer's 2007-08 season
After being signed to a 1-year deal at the minimum salary for New York, it's clear that Ronnie Brewer's value is at an all-time low. During his seasons in Utah, though, he was a very valuable role player, and his second 2007-08 season was his best. Let's begin with his ridiculous 55.8% FG%: the only other players to have achieved such a percentage while playing over 2000 minutes were John Stockton, Magic Johnson, Mo Cheeks, Walter Davis, and Josh Childress. He achieved this by taking more than half of his shots from around the rim and making 67% of those attempts. He's remembered as a bad outside shooter, and that's accurate, but overstated: he actually made 47% of the 2.3 ((albeit mostly open) attempts per game from 16-23 feet in this season. His real outside shooting problem was from outside the arc.
What's really remarkable was that he was able to get this high of a shooting percentage, and still have a relatively fair share of the offensive duties: his USG% is 17.5%, even more impressive when you consider his low turnover rate. It was a really great combination of player and environment: Brewer thrived on Sloan's system and Deron Williams' passes in a way no other player really has. As a result, Brewer posted a ridiculous 124 ORTG, a 20.5 PER, and 7.8 Win Shares, a total that actually matches Millsap's team leading total in the admittedly shorter 2011-12 season. This was his best season, to be sure, but Brewer's impact on that team as a whole was underrated.
1. Andrei Kirilenko's 2003-2004 season
In my opinion, this is the best season put forward by a Jazz player since Stockton and Malone. Luckily, there are statistics to back that assertion up, including Win Shares, which gives Andrei a full 11.6 wins for that season. Let's begin with the underwhelming 44.3 FG%, not a great number, but still remarkably above the Jazz's total percentage of 43.6%. He shot reasonably well from 3 (33.8%), but he added most of his scoring efficiency from the free throw line, where he shot 79% and went 6.3 times per game. No other player has gone to the line as many times in the post-Stockton-and-Malone era. Furthermore, Andrei's rebounding (8.1 RPG) and assists(3.1 APG) ranked 1st and 3rd on the team, respectively.
But where Andrei was really, truly brilliant is on the defensive end. His quick hands allowed him to get 2.8 blocks and 1.9 steals per game, impressive enough numbers. But what was incredible is that he gathered those numbers without gambling: his defensive rating is a 97, i.e., while he was on the floor, the Jazz allowed an estimated 97 points per 100 possessions. That's a pretty good number for an individual player - it's by far the lowest the Jazz have had since Stockton and Malone. That, plus a slow pace of play, meant an end result was a team that allowed it's opponents to make field goals than any team in the league.
This season is correctly recognized as excellent, but I don't think Kirilenko gets enough credit in our minds for putting up a better season than even Deron Williams has. Hopefully the fans will remember those contributions as he gets introduced in SLC against the Timberwolves.