Mar 31, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic (14) drives to the basket against Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) in the first half at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Nikola Pekovic's rank among NBA centers

It’s no secret that the center position in the NBA has been on a down-swing in recent years,  and arguably showcases the weakest field of players among the five positions.

Really, when you compare your top 10 players in the league list with a friend, do either of you have a true five-spot player among the elite? Dwight Howard, maybe? Marc Gasol is probably not a top 10 player.

DeMarcus Cousins has immense potential but always seems to be prone to the technical foul/off-the-court issues/suspensions coming out of nowhere trifecta. Joakim Noah is an incredible defender but that is only half of the battle.

So, the answer to whether or not you or your friend rank a true center in the top 10 should be no.

One player who I failed to mention when discussing the better centers in the league was the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Nikola Pekovic. The four-year pro from Montenegro is rarely talked about when thinking of the best big men in the game. A few may not even consider ‘Pek the best “Nikola” in the league, favoring instead the Orlando Magic’s Nikola Vucevic. The Swiss 23-year-old was a double-double machine last year for a poor Orlando squad and is 45 pounds lighter than his counterpart. I would take Pekovic, however, one of the best back-to-the-basket players in the entire league.

Now, it’d be foolish to put Pekovic anywhere in the same galaxy as a top 10 NBA player, let alone at his position. However, it wouldn’t shock me to see him improve upon last season’s impressive stat line (17.5 PPG, 8.7 RPG, .541 FG%) and make his way into the conversation of the best center in the league. Pekovic also posted 3.8 offense rebounds per game and shot nearly 75 percent from the free throw line last year.

There are a few areas of improvement for ‘Pek (see below) which could catapult him from the underrated player that he is to challenging for a coveted spot in the top five centers in the NBA.

For the record, I would currently place Howard, Gasol, Noah, Cousins, Al Jefferson, Andre Drummond, Al Horford (when healthy) and Brook Lopez (when healthy) above Pekovic in terms of centers.

1. Protect the rim

Some may point to his 285-pound frame as having a negative effect on his defense. Stay on whatever diet you’re on, Pek, because with your size, other bigs can have a tough time backing you down. However, like most of the T-Wolves roster last season, defense, and in particular protecting the rim, was an issue for Pekovic. Opponents shot over 55-percent against Pekovic in that area last season.

2. Stay healthy

This might be an unfair thing to place on a player because injuries are very often completely out of their control. However, to be considered among the best centers in the NBA, Pekovic must play more than the 57 games he’s averaged so far in his young career. His ankles were an issue last season, so hopefully the big man can avoid any bad breaks in the 2014-2015 season.

3. Be a leader

With the probable departure of leading scorer and rebounder Kevin Love, that all of a sudden creates more opportunities for Pekovic. Depending on what the Wolves get in return for Love, Pek may be one of the go-to scoring options next season. He will likely be asked to play more than the 30.8 minutes per game he put out in 2013-2014.

Pekovic signed a five-year deal with the team in August 2013, so it appears he’ll be in the Twin Cities for a while. Let’s see what next season brings us for Pek and if he can make the leap into the elite NBA center club.

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