Former Utah Jazz star Andrei Kirilenko is one of the most underrated and well-rounded players in NBA history.
Say what you will about his injury problems, not living up to lofty expectations bestowed upon him by virtue of signing a max contract, or how he nearly left Utah (the 2007 Playoff fiasco), however, Kirilenko is still one of the best players to ever put on a Jazz uniform.
Nearly two years ago, the Jazz honored Kirilenko during a second quarter presentation for his accomplishments with the team, which is nice, but it’s not enough.
His No. 47 jersey should be hanging from the rafters at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Now some Jazz fans might think it’s a ridiculous claim, but there are multiple reasons why his jersey number should go in down in Jazz lore and never be worn again.
Jazz Record Books
2nd: Blocks (1,380)
4th: Steals (960)
5th: Assists (1,919)
5th: Minutes played (20,989)
6th: Points (8,411)
7th: Rebounds (3,836)
7th: Games played (681)
By these numbers alone, you could make a case for AK-47 to have his jersey retired. He ranks in the top 10 in multiple major stat categories, ahead of several former Jazzmen who already have their jersey retired.
Kirilenko is also everywhere in the Jazz playoff record books. And that’s just major stats, he’s basically in the top 10 of everything in Jazz history. Being everywhere in the Jazz records just proves what a great all-around talent he was, and add in that he’s ahead of all those Jazz legends, many of whom are Hall of Famers, solidifies his spot for jersey retirement.
Kirilenko played 10 full seasons in a Jazz uniform, beginning in 2001, and playing until 2011. He’s one of the longest tenured Jazz players ever, behind only John Stockton (19 seasons), Karl Malone (18 seasons), Mark Eaton (12 seasons), and Darrell Griffith (11 seasons). Yes, he’s the fourth-longest tenured player in team history. He’s also ahead of current jersey-retirees Adrian Dantley (7 seasons), Jeff Hornacek (6+ seasons), and Pete Maravich (5+ seasons).
Kirilenko helped lead the Jazz to six playoff appearances, winning back-to-back Northwest Division titles from 2007-08 while helping lead them to the Western Conference Finals in 2007.
He was there for the final two playoff appearances of the Stockton/Malone era, and was the bridge to better years following their departure. He was a big part of the four consecutive playoff teams from 2007-10, teaming up with Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, and Mehmet Okur to lead a new era of Jazz basketball. The trip to the conference finals in 2007 is the farthest Utah has been in the NBA Playoffs since the 1997-98 team that made the NBA Finals.
And don’t tell me that six trips to the postseason isn’t enough to warrant his jersey being retired by the Jazz. He made the playoffs more than both Adrian Dantley (3) and Pete Maravich (never).
Kirilenko also accomplished many things as an individual. Following his rookie season, he was named to the 2002 NBA All-Rookie First Team, playing in the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend during both his first and second seasons.
During his career best 2003-04 campaign, Andrei was named to the NBA All-Star team and named to the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team while nearly leading an upstart Jazz team to the playoffs the following year following
Kirilenko also added All-Defensive Team selections for the 2004-05 season (second team) and 2005-06 campaign (first team). During the 2004-05 season, he led the league in blocks per game average, which is really an accomplishment when you think about it. For one, he’s 6-foot-9, which makes him the shortest player to ever lead the league in that category. What’s even more incredible is that he played in just 41 games, just half the season, due to injury. He also led the league in total blocks for the 2005-06 season.
Stats Don’t Lie
Kirilenko is absolutely a great all-around player, and he could fill up the box score. He recorded 10 blocks in a single game during the 2005-06 season, and during a game during the same season, he recorded a rare 5×6 statline (when a player records 5 stats in each statistical category). Playing against the Lakers, he scored 14 points, grabbed eight rebounds, dished out nine assists, grabbed six steals and added seven blocks. Kirilenko and Hakeem Olajuwon are the only 2 NBA players who have finished a game with at least 6 steals, 6 blocks, 6 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists since 1985–86.
During his career best 2003–04 season, he ranked third in the league in blocked shots per game and fourth in the league in steals per game, becoming just the second player in NBA history to rank in the top five in both categories in a season ever (David Robinson is the other).
According to Bleacher Report, during AK’s 10-season run with Utah, only one player across that span matched his point (8,411), rebound (3,836), assists (1,919) and block (1,380) totals. That one player was Tim Duncan, one of the greatest players of all-time.
The advanced stats are a fan of Kirilenko as well. He is 16th in NBA history in Defensive Box Plus/Minus, and 19th all-time in Box Plus/Minus, ahead of multiple Hall of Famers. If the advanced stats can make an argument for AK being a Hall of Famer, then he should most definitely have his jersey hanging from the rafters in Salt Lake City.
Few realize how skilled Kirilenko actually was during his career and what a great all-around player he was. There’s no doubt in my mind that his jersey should be retired. From stuffing the stat sheet, to the playoff runs, to his insane length and shot blocking ability, Kirilenko has left his mark on the Jazz and it’s fan base and deserves a jersey retirement night, hopefully in the near future.
Stats current as of January 20, 2018 courtesy of Basketball Reference.