Turiaf Hopes Working With Pekovic Will Make Both Better Players

by Mark Remme
Web Editor

Turiaf: Working With Pekovic Will Make Both Better Players

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Ronny Turiaf has played just five career games against Nikola Pekovic, but apparently that sample size is big enough for him to draw a not-so-surprising conclusion.

“I can tell you I’m looking forward to having him on my team,” Turiaf said. “I’m really excited about that. I’m looking forward to it. I know I hate playing against him, because he’s a guy that’s relentless.”

Pekovic skyrocketed from a little-used bench player as a rookie into a starter the Timberwolves valued so much this offseason that they made it their priority to re-sign him long term as a restricted free agent. And now Turiaf, also signed this offseason as a free agent who played for the Clippers last season, is tasked with backing up the bruising, punishing Pekovic on this roster.

As for not facing him anymore? That’s not necessarily the case. The two will go head-to-head in practice every day for at least six months.

But that fact didn’t deter Turiaf from signing in Minnesota, and by most measures it looks like it excites him as he gets set to join the team for Training Camp this October. He sees an opportunity to grow—not only as a way to better himself as a player but also to help Pekovic improve his game. When Turiaf faced Pekovic as an opponent, there was no equity in the exchange. Now, the two will get a chance to push each other for the same cause.

“I’m looking forward to getting him better,” Turiaf said. “Having to guard me in practice, I know he’s going to hate me. But we’re going to make each other better, because that’s going to make me a better defender having to guard him every day, and I know I’m going to make him a better offensive player by just making his life a living hell every day in practice. Because I want him to succeed, and he has a lot of potential.”

There’s no question in the few times Pekovic faced Turiaf, he left a lasting impression. The first came when Turiaf played for New York in 2010 and Pekovic had limited minutes. The last four came while Pekovic had the lion’s share of time at center over the past two years, and while Turiaf averaged just around 10 minutes per night in those four contests, he got his money’s worth.

The instincts, the physical play and the presence both through his scoring and rebounding around the boards were all evident.

“He’s a very smart player who knows what he can do, and he’s going to do that at all costs,” Turiaf said. “That’s what makes him so successful. He’s pound-for-pound the strongest center that I had to guard. Hands down. You see that in the games.”

Wolves President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders talked about Turiaf’s presence on the team as a guy who helps make his teammates better—mostly referencing the type of screens he can set on the pick-and-roll and how he can protect the rim. But he also sees Turiaf as a guy who can challenge Pekovic in those crucial practice moments and help the team’s cornerstone at center become better and better as he moves into the fourth year of his career.

“Any time you have a guy who will challenge you, you’re going to get better,” Saunders said. “They’re going to challenge each other.”

That same challenge extends to rookie center Gorgui Dieng, who was drafted out of Louisville to be a shot-blocker and viable passing big. Turiaf said he looks forward to helping pass along some of the lessons he learned earlier in his career playing with Amare Stoudemire in New York and Pau Gasol in Los Angeles.

That’s part of the intangibles Saunders described on Wednesday. Turiaf, for his career, averaged 16.8 minutes per game. He’s averaged 4.7 points and 3.6 rebounds during that span. But he’s played in six playoffs, two finals and won a title. And during that span he’s added had Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin all going through the practice grind with him. He’s been around All-Stars at nearly every stop he’s taken in his career, and he’s picked up a few things along the way he can apply here in Minnesota.

“I’m looking forward to what I can bring to the table, that I know what to do,” Turiaf said. “And I know that’s going to help him. It’s better for the Timberwolves, it’s better for us, and if I can get him better, I’ll try to do that.”

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