Nikola Pekovic deserves your attention. He won’t get it until the Free Agency Kerfuffle of July, but he deserves it now.
While The Draft is the only thing other than The Finals going on in the NBA. How many guys in the draft or free agency are going to get the Wolves this:
There have been 20 seasons in NBA history in which a big man averaged at least 16 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.7 offensive rebounds and made at least 74% of his free throw attempts. Moses Malone did it 10 times. David Robinson, Bill Laimbeer, and Bon McAdoo each did it twice. Hakeem Olajuwon, Dave Cowens, and Roy Tarpley all did it once. And last season, Nikola Pekovic did it. It was something that hadn’t been done since 1995-96 when the Admiral did it for the second time.
Pek has inspired a ton of hand-wringing (not quite as much as the MPR beer drinkers over Low being Low and not their station’s version of Low) and other Chicken Little behaviors all season because he’s a folk hero. A cuddly, yet crushing center, who will be monetized by someone other than the Wolves this summer and Glen Taylor will have to give the nod to Flip to keep him — because who on Earth do you think is going to replace him? Dream? The Admiral? Moses? He’s Pek. He’s the Wolves starting center.
Zach Harper has a nice rundown of why he’s the perfect 5 for Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio — and whatever slew of shooters the Wolves can cobble around them.
The key to maximizing the presence of Pek down the road, assuming the Wolves retain him, is to complement him with a steady, healthy roster. Initially, this could come off as me saying you build around Pek; that’s not what I mean. For your core players, you have to know how to get them to complement each other and having players complement your center is incredibly necessary. It’s a great start to have Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio as the two leaders of this team. With Love, you have a big man that can play inside out with Pek. You can give Pek the ball at the elbow, like we see so often in the offense, and have him hand it off to Rubio coming around a curl toward the top of the key. From that action, it allows Love to post up from the weak side or fade out to the perimeter where we expect his shot to get back to its normal accuracy next season.
Or you can do the same action with Love at the elbow and either have him hand it off to Rubio as Pek posts up inside, square up for the jumper that freezes the defense, or dump it into Pek right away for an easy score. The key to Rick Adelman’s offense is having guys that play well off each other and in theory, these three do work really well together. But that’s not enough for this team. Shooters have to space the floor for them to have the proper room to operate and with Love and Pek together inside, you need to have quality perimeter defenders to slow down dribble penetration.
These two can end possessions with their rebounding prowess and Pek’s pick-and-roll defense was the best on the team last season. But we can’t pretend they’re going to be David West and Roy Hibbert out there. There will never be the real threat of shot-blocking coming from those two, but that’s not a requirement for a good defensive unit. You just need them to be in position defensively to close off driving lanes when the perimeter defense does break down and then rebound as a team.
And this is where I believe Pek’s full value can be measured as a teammate, even though he’ll end up being a payroll value. It’s so easy to complement Pekovic’s particular playing style. He’s an old school center that fits into today’s ever-evolving game. You can surround him with the 3-point shooting prowess (I mean… it has to get better at some point, right?) of today’s NBA and still maximize his abilities in the low block because the shooting creates the necessary space for Pek to grind meat, in theory. We saw him do it all season long without the proper spacing on the floor and he was still really good.