Three-Pointers: Andrei Kirilenko shines as Nets beat Wizards to open preseason
Coach Jason Kidd, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Andrei Kirilenko all debuted for the new-look Nets in a 111-106 preseason victory over the Wizards in Washington on Tuesday.
• AK47: The ultimate bench weapon. The lavish Nets opted for a soft launch into their preseason schedule, resting Deron Williams (ankle) and playing Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson just 12 minutes each. The quick look at the big guns was enough to generate some excitement: Lopez scored 15 points on just seven shots and Garnett patrolled the perimeter, looking at ease alongside his new teammates.
Exhibition season is always a good time to take a look at second-unit combinations and guys who are fighting to make the roster. For Brooklyn, that process boils down to an appreciation of just how polished their reserve corps looks already. The central force is Andrei Kirilenko, who was properly hailed as one of the summer’s biggest free agency steals.
It’s one thing to comprehend the self-evident fact that Kirilenko is worth far more than $3 million per year, it’s another to see just how influential a player of his caliber can be when matched up against non-starters. Granted, Washington’s roster isn’t particularly deep, and its frontcourt rotation is stretched by the loss of Emeka Okafor to injury, but there was just no answer for Kirilenko, who posted 11 points, five rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block in 24 minutes. One night he’s throwing a touch pass, the next he’s out in transition, the next he’s knocking a pass out of bounds, the next he’s finishing at the rim, the next… you get the picture.
His positional versatility on defense is his calling card, and he can be plugged in effortlessly with Williams/Pierce/Garnett/Lopez or Williams/Johnson/Garnett/Lopez or Williams/Johnson/Pierce/Garnett to make effective five-man groups. The theoretical possibilities are pretty much endless. Against reserves, it’s Kirilenko’s offensive versatility that stands out, as his non-stop motion wreaks havoc on young defenders and his length is difficult to account for, especially when he’s in the basket area and guys like Andray Blatche and Reggie Evans are commanding attention on the glass.
Here’s a somewhat interesting factoid: Kirilenko is the only 2012-13 starter to finish in the top-10 at his position in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) who will be shifted to a reserve role in 2013-14. Not many reserves finished in the top-10 at their position in PER last season, but those who did — like 2013 Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith and Sixth Man vote-getters Jamal Crawford and Manu Ginobili — received league-wide recognition for their services.
With Smith coming off of a knee injury, Crawford fighting for minutes on an incredibly deep Clippers team, and Kevin Martin moving into a starting role with the Timberwolves, Kirilenko is in a prime position to make a run at the 2014 Sixth Man of the Year award.
• Familiar faces in new duds. Sure, we’ve seen the promotional campaigns and Media Day photographs, but Tuesday was another big step in the “Oh, man, the Celtics really did blow it up by trading their franchise guys” realization process.
Pierce, in particular, looked strange in Brooklyn’s black uniform. Fifteen seasons of green and white is no joke. Get ready to double-take.
It’s not clear whether Garnett’s change of scenery is disorienting or merely terrifying. One of the league’s most intimidating — and polarizing — figures is now one notch higher on the villain scale thanks to the black unis.
• Mirza gets up. The Nets were clearly enjoying their first run together, as evidenced by Williams doing push-ups on the sideline following a Mirza Teletovic three-pointer late in the fourth quarter. With the assembled talent, there’s good reason for excitement.
Although Teletovic will be in a dogfight for minutes on a roster that goes 10+ deep, he made a nice first impression, scoring 15 points and grabbing six rebounds in 20 minutes. The highlight was this powerful, well-timed putback dunk that immediately set off celebrations on the Brooklyn bench.