Regular readers of BallinEurope may recall a similarly entitled writeup on Montepaschi Siena on these pages from a long time ago – actually two weeks, but already it *feels* like quite a spell. Contributing writer Enrico Cellini was as surprised as any of us when Olympiacos began Siena’s ejection from the tournament, Facebook-messaging BiE with the note that “Siena is trying its best to prove me wrong…”
But this post doesn’t concern BiE’s now-busted bracket, a frustrating finish to what had been a good-looking campaign for Montepaschi Siena, or even the Final Four surprise Olympiacos. Nope, we’re talking CSKA Moscow and that individual symbol of all of international basketball in 2011-12, Andrei Kirilenko.
In fact, why waste time? BallinEurope gets right down into an even 10 reasons why CSKA and the AK must win the 2012 Euroleague title.
• Simply put, CSKA Moscow has the best roster. Any disagreement?
• Kirilenko *may be* league MVP. Yes, BiE realizes that the latter contention is a bit controversial here. However, though the arguments for Nenad Krstic and Vassilis Spanoulis to take the Euroleague’s highest individual honor are solid, BiE nevertheless stands firm on this point, particularly after Kirilenko’s shows in the playoff series.
While one opposition voice to the Kirilenko-for-MVP debate opines that “If he wins the MVP award, it is just a marketing gimmick to the NBA agenda and nothing more than that.” But BiE would argue that Kirilenko bagging the prize would reward play far outside the NBA mainstream style. The AK has been near tops in the league in performance index rating since game one (the only player within a point of Kirilenko’s 24.07 per-game PIR is Nicolas Batum, who went for six games with SLUC Nancy) while ranking just 17th in ppg.
Points are the most important stat? Can a European basketball fan really be advancing this argument? Even the voice heard above had to admit that Kirilenko “deserves to be DPOY and in the first team of All-Euroleague” while citing his abilities as an “all-role player, all around player, [and] great team defender.”
And while, yes, it’s true that Kirilenko missed five Euroleague games – currently 25% of CSKA’s EL season – due to a nasty concussion suffered in a PBL game, he still ranks *second overall* in cumulative PIR behind only Krstic. When Kirilenko is on the floor, he’s sure to be the key factor.
In any case, what professional baller worth his or her salt wouldn’t want to cap a career year with a title? After all, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that bling, right?
(Incidentally, here’s a compromise: How about a co-MVP award with Krstic, then?)
• A CSKA title is one for the defense-loving – particularly if FC Barcelona’s the opponent in the finals. The playmaking point guard may be of disproportionate importance in knockout-game situations, but even in international play defense can still win championships. As aesthetically it should.
As awesome as it was to see Panathinaikos’ marvelous traps and chess-like zone switches on the run to last year’s championship titles, the CSKA and Barça Ds have been even more brilliant to watch in 2011-12 – for completely different reasons. For purists, no other final will do.
• As Charles Barkley is fond of saying, “Father Time is undefeated.” As the 2011-12 season progresses and time marches inexorably on, Kirilenko is realistic and stoic about his future; questions have obviously been on his mind.
The NBA free agent recently put forth a couple of estimates vis-à-vis his career span, but both have the AK-47 shelving his talents within the medium-term future. Last month, Kirilenko informed the folks at Greece-based Eurohoops.net that “I feel that I have a couple more years of great, great basketball in me and I think the NBA is still the best at this moment.” Shortly thereafter, BallinEurope contributor David Hein ran an extensive interview with Kirilenko on his website heinnews in which the Red Army man stated that “I think I still have three to four years of highest-level basketball in future.”
Additionally, Kirilenko “was never thinking about slowly finishing career somewhere. As soon as I see I don’t belong to the best in the world I will retire.”
As the time ticks down, CSKA’s season takes on a new sense of urgency for Kirilenko: Realistically speaking, should he stay true to his word, odds say this is his last run for a title.
• ¡Viva la revolución (and the truly unique)! From the excellent Noam Schiller at the excellent Hardwood Paroxysm: “Kirilenko has long been a frustrating case of a mind that just can’t keep with the frenetic pace set by a unique combination of physique and talent. His lean build masks his athleticism well, but accentuates his length, and enables him to deftly maneuver between the gigantic men that share basketball courts with him. Between the speed, the quickness, the surprising vertical outbursts that stand in sharp contrast to his appearance, the entire basketball court is often just a single step away from Andrei’s long reach. In his purest form, Kirilenko was created with omnipresence in mind.
“Somehow, in the NBA, this raw tendency has always been obstructed. … Placing Kirilenko in any semblance of a ‘natural’ position is severe miscasting, as Kirilenko is in every way the positional revolution incarnate. Clearly, he isn’t a guard, and isn’t a center, but he isn’t really a forward either – he’s an everything, just tall enough to fit between the 2 and the 4, which inevitably ends up being listed as a 3. If anything, the disservice to Andrei is not that the prefix to his ‘forward’ listing is the word ‘small’ instead of ‘power,’ but that he’s been cast as anything at all.”
• Bad guys are great. BiE is one of the more atypical sports fans in the belief that dynasties are good for the sport. A winning team after a monster season gives great opportunity for every other side’s fans to vent, to target, to despise, to hate – and it gives history a measuring stick to previous eras and relative present quality. Imagine the size of the target on the backs on the 2012-13 Red Army. Imagine the delightful swirming of a team teased by overwhelming opinion that “they couldn’t have done it without Kirilenko” as they try to repeat without Kirilenko. Imagine the schadenfreude… (See? If your team’s already out, you’re thinking about CSKA already…)
• CSKA is on the verge of history. Dynasty or no – and with a championship-game appearance in May, that would make five in the past seven seasons – “El Terror de Europa” could well manage an unprecedented triple crown that has eluded them for three years running: a Euroleague title; the VTB United League championship, where after going a group-topping 14-2 have received a bye into the semifinals; and the PBL domestic league, in which they’re 14-1.
• For Kirilenko, success might mean a nice paycheck. Has any NBA refugee performed as well in 2011-12 as Kirilenko? While Sonny Weems’ play in Lithuania should increase his value on the 2012 free agent market (recall how nicely Josh Childress benefitted), Kirilenko should see a nice payoff with any new club. And who doesn’t think Mikhail Prokhorov won’t be watching this Euroleague Final Four very carefully? Assuming the money is there, how does a nucleus of AK-47, Superman II and D-Will sound?
• It’s extra swagger for Team Russia going into the 2012 Olympic Games. With a strong showing in the Eurobasket 2011 tourney, Russia looks good going into summer 2012. What just might offset a grueling schedule? How about the bonus “heart of a champion” side effects plus the shortcut of recent camaraderie that guys like Kirilenko, Viktor Khryapa, Timofey Mozgov, Alexey Shved and Anton Pronkrashov will have shared? Of course, if you’re not Russian, you’re cheering for jetlag.
• The “Hall of Fame” factor. With a 2007 Eurobasket MVP and championship, status as youngest player ever to suit up in Russia’s top league, a mark as the youngest European player ever drafted into the NBA, and lots of memorable national-team performances, Kirilenko is surely a shoo-in for the FIBA Hall of Fame.
But what about that other hall? You know, The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame ‘Stateside? While Kirilenko’s numbers in the NBA rank him as the 219th greatest ever in that league, perhaps the Russian could be something of a barrier-buster after a historical season. After all, it doesn’t say “NBA” anywhere in the museum’s official title.
Or even more reasonably: So Maccabi Tel Aviv was inducted into the ‘Hall in 2008; how about CSKA Moscow, then? Would a seventh Euroleague championship and/or 12th Euroleague finals appearance be enough to gain attention in North America? BiE thinks it should…