clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Jazz look to get A.K. involved

BOISE — So unhappy Andrei Kirilenko wants to be a more integral part of the offense.

Fine, then. Let's do it.

That's the approach the Jazz talked about taking Tuesday, their opening day of training camp at Boise State University here.

"We're going to do the best we can," assistant coach Phil Johnson said, "to involve him in the offense."

But how?

How do the Jazz go about getting more from, and giving more to, a not-exactly-sharpshooting starting small forward who at best is a fourth scoring option behind power forward Carlos Boozer, center Mehmet Okur and point guard Deron Williams?

Much of the burden, teammates suggested, will fall on Kirilenko himself.

"Andrei is a tremendously talented player. ... The biggest thing now," backup center Jarron Collins said, "is finding a way to get the best out of him."

"Andrei is good enough to figure that out. I mean, there were games last year where he was involved. ... The play-calling wasn't different. The game of basketball wasn't different," backup small forward Matt Harpring added. "So you've got to look at film, and look at yourself, and be like, 'OK, what was I doing when I was doing this?' I mean, I know when I have a bad game I go look at film from when I was playing better and say, 'What did I do in this game different?' That's how you get better as a player."

Still, there may be ways to tweak the offense just enough that Kirilenko will not feel forgotten.

Even Williams, who has admitted to not passing to Kirilenko at times last season because other teammates were working harder, recently went to Sloan suggesting as much.

One is to allow him to handle the ball more out of the point position and get the Jazz into their offense — play point-forward, in other words.

Another is to play the versatile Russian more at shooting guard, where former starter Derek Fisher's offseason departure for the Los Angeles Lakers leaves the Jazz with a void.

"Actually, as strange as it sounds," Johnson said, "we did (those) things last year quite a bit — and we're going to continue to do a lot of those things, and add some stuff."

One option the Jazz may turn to more frequently this season is using Kirilenko at power forward.

The 4 spot is where he thrived before Boozer's 2004 arrival in Utah — he averaged a career-high 16.5 points in the 2003-04 season — and it's where he mostly played en route to winning MVP honors and helping Russia win this summer's EuroBasket championship.

A possible way to get Kirilenko more post-up opportunities is to have center Okur, a long-distance shooting big man, play more out of the 3 (small forward) spot when the two are on the floor together, and perhaps have Boozer occasionally pop out to the perimeter as well.

"We may end up playing (Kirilenko) more at 4 — and maybe Memo (Okur) a little bit at 3," said Johnson, adding one of the Jazz's goals is to have each of its players proficient at a position other than their primary one.

Williams, in fact, said he thinks Kirilenko is at his best when he's playing out of the power forward position.

Yet it won't be easy to get him as much time there as he might like.

One reason: the current makeup of the Jazz roster.

"We've got a pretty good power forward," Williams said with reference to 2006-07 NBA All-Star Boozer, "so it's tough."

Another is that playing power forward in the NBA comes with matchup problems not necessarily experienced in the European game.

"The talent level is down from what we do," Johnson said, "and the players aren't as big and strong."

Even the less-than-burly Kirilenko concedes as much.

"It's different size-wise in NBA (compared to) Europe," he said Tuesday, one day after dodging questions regarding his unhappiness playing for Sloan and his offseason trade request. "In Europe, you can play 4 and it's not really a big issue. In NBA, guys playing 4 are like (European) 5s — big guys, centers, strong guys."

As for precisely where, and how, he prefers to be used, Kirilenko wasn't biting again Tuesday.

"I don't know," he said. "I'm not the coach. I think it's more coach job to put in the right position."

Sloan isn't shedding much light on the subject this week either, but others were willing to discuss the possibilities.

"I've seen him be very effective in his position as a small forward — but he's so versatile he can play any position Coach puts him in," Collins said.

"It all depends on the game," Harpring added. "Matchups are huge. So, you can't say, 'He's better at the 4,' 'He's better at the 3,' 'He's better at the 2.' Different teams (present) different matchups."

The Jazz's ever-evolving offense also could prove advantageous.

"We're more up-and-down now," reserve guard C.J. Miles said. "We still run sets, but we're more athletic, and I think that's better for (Kirilenko). So I think this year will be a lot easier, because (last season) we were in the middle of that transition, and now we kind of found the way we want to play."

Williams suggested that while he can't control precisely how Kirilenko is used — "I call the plays, but at the same time (Sloan) dictates the offense and he (Sloan) decides where people play" — he can, as point guard, at least try to be more cognizant of matchup opportunities.

"Definitely," he said, "if A.K. has a smaller guy on him, we've got to get him to post up. If he's got a bigger guy on him, let him handle the ball, let him bring him out and clear it out for him."

The rest is on Kirilenko, an All-Star in 2004.

"I thought he got a lot of touches last year. It's just a matter of getting them more where he's comfortable — you know, around the basket more," Williams said. "We did a lot of dribble handoffs to A.K. last year. It's just a fact that you've got to go, and do something with it — not just settle for those pull-up jumpers. Try to attack the basket more."

And perhaps fret less.

"I think he just needs to relax," Johnson said, "and play within what we're doing — he's had success here before — and quit worrying about all those little things."