Every year in the NBA, there are surprises from all over the place. On each team, a player usually goes under the radar entering the season and ends having a terrific year, shocking people along the way. Last year, that player for the Brooklyn Nets was Shaun Livingston, who was rewarded for his outstanding play as one of the Nets’ most important players, and is now with the Golden State Warriors. For this upcoming season, Brooklyn has several candidates to be the X factor, but ultimately it will be Andrei Kirilenko.
Kirilenko signed with the Nets prior to last season on a 2-year deal that paid him substantially less than other teams were offering. He thought he would be joining a championship-caliber team, but that did not end up being case. Nonetheless, Kirilenko was under the spotlight last year, with people believing he would be an integral part of the rotation as the sixth man, and maybe even be the player that propelled the Nets to the top. The previous season, Kirilenko put up excellent numbers for the Minnesota Timberwolves, averaging 12.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. However, last season he didn’t live up to the expectations as he missed nearly half the year due to injuries, and when he played he only averaged 5 points and 3.2 rebounds.
Unlike last year, the attention on the Nets bench is no longer on Kirilenko, opening the opportunity for him to be an X factor. Quite frankly, the Nets have a few new and other intriguing players on the bench who will be fighting for a spot in the starting lineup. Yet the reality is that the play of the 12-year veteran Kirilenko will be of the utmost importance if the Nets want to compete with the best. Kirilenko needs to be the guy for the Nets that he has been in the past: a guy who brings a boost of energy off the bench and jumpstarts the second unit while providing big-time minutes as well.
At this point in his career, it is pretty certain what Brooklyn will get out of Kirilenko. He plays tight, pesky defense, and truly makes things happen on that end of the floor. He is known for his defense and ability to produce steals, cause other types of turnovers, and contest shots at an elite level.
Mason Plumlee and Mirza Teletovic are two players primed for breakout seasons after strong, convincing finishes to last year. Plumlee will most likely back up Brook Lopez and play a large amount of minutes considering Kevin Garnett is unable to at his age. Teletovic, whether a starter or not, will see a major increase in minutes and be one of the leading scorers for Brooklyn. However, opposing teams will undoubtedly focus their attention on these two players, and stellar seasons from them will not come as too much of a surprise.
Then there are the two main rookies for Brooklyn: Bojan Bogdanovic and Markel Brown. Bogdanovic is receiving a great deal of hype while getting paid a similar amount as the fourth pick in the draft, Aaron Gordon. Bogdanovic has a huge upside, but the transition to the NBA is usually difficult and requires an adjustment period. The same goes for Brown, who has potential as well but may struggle in the beginning.
Jarrett Jack and Alan Anderson will be key role players off the bench, but not much more. Jack will have a large role filling Shaun Livingston‘s shoes, but it is unlikely the veteran journeyman will play at a significantly higher level than he has in the past. He will do his job by running the offense at times and by providing necessary scoring. There is also newcomer Sergey Karasev, who will start the season buried in the depth chart — it would take a few injuries for him to make his way into the rotation.
At the end of the day, Kirilenko is in a perfect situation. Teams will be overlooking him, which should help Kirilenko not only have a bounce-back season, but also serve as that “missing piece” he was supposed to be. Although he is getting up there in age, Kirilenko definitely does not play like an old guy and will bring much needed energy and effort off the bench. The Nets already know where their scoring will come from, allowing Kirilenko to play his game and be the X factor.
Jordan Berkowitz is a Brooklyn Nets and NBA writer for RantSports.com