Oddly, it’s been one of the quiet weeks of the Wolves whirl wind season. A severely condensed schedule, sometimes three or four games in a week with practices in between, travel on top of that and remember, a lot of the players have families they miss and with whom they would like to spend time. Yes, as quiet a week as they come and strangely on the final few days of the Wolves regular season.
With work still to be done, it was refreshing to see coach Rick Adelman put his team through big practices too. It gave me an opportunity to visit with the one Wolves player I had to check. I’m convinced, in my own hoopaholic head, that without the Godfather, the Wolves wouldn’t have had the run they did to get basketball back on the Minnesota map.
I mentioned it last week in this very blog. I wrote, “When it comes to the big fella, I’m a huge fan of Nikola Pekovic. When he comes up in conversation, I think of one word. Relentless. He’s a tall timber in the middle who bruises, bangs and busts up those who play against him. Pek has showed up to play this season and considering how sore he is with those bone spurs in his right ankle, I take my hat off to him.”
I’ve listened to him talk to the media and interact with his teammates but chatting with Pek was delightful. For as big as he is, as menancing an appearance as he offers…you know, so tall (listed at 6-foot-11), the lumberjack black beard and the unavoidable tattoos, Pek couldn’t be friendlier.
There’s no question that this is the place Pek wants to be. He enjoys his teammates and as they played and worked through the season’s second half struggles, Pek sees a tremendous opportunity next season, for himself and this team. Pek pulls no punches, he says that with Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, JJ Barea, Luke Ridnour (players he’s naming off to me), another summer of growth for bench players and a number one draft pick (courtesy of Utah) this June, he sees strong playoff potential for the Wolves in 2012-13. The Adelman coaching staff also got rave reviews from the Godfather. “They really put things in place…I like what Coach brought to this team.”
Pek smiled throughout our conversation about the season now in the rear view mirror. “It’s been good and bad but I’ve enjoyed it. There’s a lot of good things in there.” And with the NBA’s second season ready to roll, to Pek’s point, “a lot of good things in there”, shouldn’t be lost. “You know, we were playing good basketball before Rubio got hurt. Losing him was tough, we never really got it going after that.” Precisely why Pek will have a tough time watching the playoffs (which he won’t worry about DVR’ing any of the games) and holds out so much optimism for next season.
Factoring in the most for the big man has to be his health. Pek grinned when I asked him how he’s feeling, what’s it like to play through all that ankle pain. Pek didn’t hesitate with that answer. His upcoming surgery (scheduled May 15) to fix bone spurs can’t get here fast enough and will offer him huge relief. Playing on the bad wheels, if you will, is “Like walking with knives and needles poking in your feet.” ‘Nuff said.
So as our session is winding down, I throw a question offered by GameON! viewer Arthur in Golden Valley. “Do you think Nikola Pekovic has a shot at the NBA’s most improved player award?” Arthur, the answer is YES. Just look at the contribution and his numbers from the past two seasons. This year, Pek is averaging over 13 points per game with 7 rebounds a night compared to 5 PPG/3 Reb last year. Players know the Wolves have a center who can play in the middle. So do coaches. Certainly, the Wolves have some off season holes to fill but one will be Pek’s backup. Pek is doing here what he has done in European basketball for nearly a decade. He’s making a name in the paint by his banging and grabbing offensive boards, keeping the ball alive and improving as a passer. Don’t forget that he’s not an offensive liability as Pek is shooting around 56% from the field, which if he keeps it up, will be a franchise record (topping KG’s 52.6%). By the way, Pek’s FG percentage places him 4th in the NBA.
So, I’m hanging my hat for Pek as the league’s most improved. He’s been an MVP overseas and honored for his post play year in and year out. That Improved award is an honor that Kevin Love has in his massive resume. I said it before here in SimonsSays and I’ll say it again, “You need a good center. A big man you can count on night in and night out. Is Pek as much of an MVP as Klove?! In most minds, most likely not. Love has had a remarkable season and his growth continues to amaze. But you ask Klove about Pek and he’ll tell you. ”It’s great to play with him”. And when Pek’s mates say that in support of their big man, it’s all that needs to be said. Proof of performance, from the guys with whom he’s working.”
Coach kinda’ sums it up perfectly. Coach Adelman told the media this week that Pek “came in and made a huge impact.” Yes indeed he has. (By the way, my extended sitdown and 1-on-1 interview with Nikola Pekovic will air this Sunday at 10:30AM on my weekly TV show, GameON! powered by SEVEN Steakhouse on FOX’s MY-29)
This month is no different from the first month of the season when it comes to Wolves players being active in the community. On the same day that Pek was sitting down with us at GameON!, his teammates Rubio and Barea were putting in overtime for a few very fortunate fans. Every now and then, charity opportunities pop up that allow fans once-in-a-lifetime moments with NBA players. The guys don’t have to do these things but JJ and No. 9 made some big charity spending, long-time fans VERY happy by sitting down to dinner with them.
The two guards have had much different months but both have been swamped. Rubio has been rehabbing after ACL surgery and Barea’s been busting it averaging over 16 points and 9 assists while trying to snap that April funk the Wolves have endured.
While we were taping GameON!, JJ and Ricky were quietly dining on the other side of the Steakhouse with the fans and talking hoops for the better part of an hour. The table full of fans were locked in, hanging on their point guard’s every word and from a far (my media pass and GameON! host credential didn’t give me access to this one) you could tell it was one happy 6-top by the smiles on their faces and the fast & furious conversation going back and forth.
Whether it’s an unforgettable dinner or reading to kids every week at one of our many grade schools, remembering those kids who need presents at the holidays, visiting those fans who are hospitalized or giving to charities so they might continue their fine work, the Wolves and their Fast Break Foundation get it. Guard Wayne Ellington does more than his fair share of appearances & while he was with us on GameON! recently, I said “thanks” to him for all the time he gives to support Fast Break’s work. #22 told me, “It’s what we do…what we are supposed to do. It feels good. I love that! And I don’t blame the fans for having the players sign the steak knife or the water glass. It’s an evening they’ll never forget. Nor should they!
Too bad he’s been shut down for the season but here’s hoping that this award comes the way of Wolves guard Luke Ridnour. Luke is one of the six divisional finalists for the 2011-12 NBA Sportsmanship Award. Joining Luke, Cleveland’s Antawn Jamison, Dallas’ Jason Kidd, the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, Miami’s Shane Battier and New York’s Jeremy Lin to vie for the this season's NBA Sportsmanship Award. These are the best of the good guys in the league and Luke is a star. I’ve mentioned this before and I feel fortunate enough to have covered Ridnour as he was coming up through the prep ranks out in the Pacific Northwest, opted to play his college ball at Oregon and then was selected by his hometown Seattle SuperSonics. The NBA Sportsmanship Award honors a player who best represents the ideals of sportsmanship on the court and is voted on by NBA players. The NBA will announce the winner and award him the Joe Dumars Trophy after the regular season.
Returning & Reloading!
The Lynx are back on the court this weekend! Team Title will be back on the court with a few new faces trying to earn a spot on the roster of the defending WNBA Champions. The WNBA Draft is in the books with the Lynx picking talented Notre Dame forward Devereaux Peters with the third overall pick. From there, the Lynx picked a handful of players including No. 12, Brazil’s Damiris Dantas out of Brazil, forward Julie Wojta (Wisconsin-Green Bay), forward Kayla Standish (Gonzaga), guard Nika Baric (Slovenia) and Jacki Gemelos (USC). The cupboard is full for Coach Cheryl Reeve from Moore to Brunson, Whalen to Wiggins and plenty in between and no wonder there are such great expectations for the Lynx this season!
See you on TV
You don’t want to miss GameON! powered by SEVEN Steakhouse/Sushi/Ultralounge & Skybar this Sunday morning on FOX’s My29 at 10:30AM. We’re talking hoops in this half hour with our special guest big Pek, Nikola Pekovic and former NBA Champ (Chicago Bulls) and Minnesota Golden Gophers great Trent Tucker!
All GameON! shows are broadcast in High Definition and shows with Wolves like Coach Adelman, JJ Barea, Wayne Ellington, Derrick Williams, Jack Sikma and Anthony Tolliver can be found on ITunes & online at www.gameontvmn.com. GameON! powered by SEVEN allows you the opportunity to get up close and personal, to meet your favorite players and fellow fans at our weekly Tuesday tapings next door to Target Center at SEVEN (7th and Hennepin). GameON! offers in-depth interviews with the top players, great food, sports newsmakers and we get you inside your favorite teams (including the Wolves). You can friend us on Facebook at GameOnTvMN and drop me a note, Rod@GameOnTvMN.com. We reserve the right to use your e-mails here in SimonsSays at Timberwolves.com.
Keep your GameON! See you soon!