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Nikola Pekovic | 2013-14 Profile

by Mark Remme
Web Editor
@markremme

­ Editor’s Note: Throughout the next month, Timberwolves.com will take a look back at the Wolves’ 2013-14 roster individually and look ahead to the upcoming offseason and 2014-15 campaign. Part XII looks back on Nikola Pekovic, who signed a five-year extension with Minnesota prior to the 2013-14 season.

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Nikola Pekovic

C | 6-11, 285 pounds

2013-14 season: 54 GP, 54 GS, 30.8 MPG, .540 FG%, 17.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.4 BPG, 0.6 SPG

No one with in the Timberwolves organization has put together a more impressive rise to prominence over the past three years than Nikola Pekovic.

As a rookie in 2010-11, he barely saw the court and, when he did, he often had difficulty staying on the floor due to foul trouble. In 2011-12, coach Rick Adelman’s first year, he battled injuries early and then found himself behind Darko Milicic on the depth chart.

But when Pekovic got his chance midway through that lockout-shortened season, he thrived to the point where Adelman and his coaching staff needed him on the court. He became a starter during that campaign, and he really never looked back. Flash forward to this year, and Pekovic was a player the team heavily campaigned to help get chosen to the All-Star Game, and last summer they inked him to a five-year deal that will keep him in a Wolves uniform for the foreseeable future.

“There are not very many centers that have the ability to score in the low post. Pek does—he’s one of the best, if not the best,” President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders said. “And we all know he’s a great rebounder, especially an offensive rebounder.”

Pekovic adds so much to the Wolves’ locker room, and it goes beyond his play on the court. When he’s in the game, Pekovic is an imposing figure—a throwback type of physicality that most teams have foregone in the past few years for smaller, perimeter-based lineups. Pekovic is the type of guy that bigs around the league don’t like to battle against. Former Lakers center Andrew Bynum said three years ago he was thrilled when Pekovic left the game late in a matchup against Minnesota.

He can muscle his way through the paint and score (17.4 points per game on 54.0 percent shooting last year), and he can rebound on both ends (3.8 of his 8.7 per game last year were on the offensive end). And he can finish as a trailer at the basket in transition.

Off the court, Pekovic is unanimously considered the funniest teammate in the locker room. He’s witty, he’s got a light sense of humor and he’s able to connect with all of his teammates. And on top of that, he’s committed to helping the group succeed in any way possible.

Nikola Pekovic’s Top Games

December 18 vs. Portland: The Wolves picked up a 120-109 home victory over the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers at Target Center in mid-December, and on this particular night Nikola Pekovic was the main attraction. He played 29 minutes in the ballgame and finished the night 14-of-19 from the field. He scored 30 points on this evening and brought down nine boards—five on the offensive end. The Blazers’ true center duo of Robin Lopez and Meyers Leonard, by comparison, coupled to go 0-for-0 with two points and five rebounds on the evening.

March 28 vs. Los Angeles Lakers: During a stretch of injury bad luck (he had missed 19 of his previous 26 games and would miss 10 of the next 11 games to close out the regular season), Pekovic was brilliant during a late-March game against the Lakers. He played 22 minutes in the game, but he was 9-of-10 during that timeframe—including 8-of-8 from the free-throw line—and finished the game with 26 points. He had just three rebounds, but one of them was on the offensive end. He ended the game with a team-best plus-38 on the evening. Of course, this game will be remembered for two things: Kevin Love put together a 22-point, 10-rebound and 10-assist triple-double in three quarters of play, and the Wolves beat L.A. 143-107.

December 22 at Los Angeles Clippers: This one will go down as one of the toughest losses of the year, given the Wolves were up four with 18 seconds left and ended up losing 120-116 in overtime. But Pekovic was a big reason why Minnesota was in such good position to win this game. On the road at Staples Center, Pekovic played 46 total minutes and collected 34 points and 14 rebounds on the night. He shot 16-of-28 from the field, hit 2-of-3 shots from the line and brought down eight boards on the offensive glass. He also blocked a shot. He and Kevin Love combined for 79 of the team’s 116 points on the night.

Top Offseason Objectives

Pekovic is the type of player who will always have a physical element to his game. That’s the reason why he’s made it this far, and it’s the reason why he signed that five-year deal with the Wolves this past offseason. He’s a force inside, and he plays with the type of physical style that makes him atypical and in some ways unique in today’s NBA. But it also poses a problem for Pekovic, who at 6-foot-11 and 285 pounds is susceptible to ankle and foot injuries that linger. First and foremost, Pekovic needs to get work on staying healthy this offseason and be in top basketball shape when he returns to the Twin Cities in September. But as former coach Rick Adelman has said for a couple years, if Pekovic can balance his physical play with a bit more finesse in his offensive game, it will take some of the wear and tear out of his minutes. We saw Pekovic expand his game a bit this season. Last season, he 5-of-11 in shot attempts outside of 16 feet. In 2012-13, he was 0-for-1 outside of 16 feet, and in 2011-12, he was 0-for-2. In practice you can see Pekovic has a bit more range than he showcases in games. If he can step out and add that dimension—along with a bit more facilitating at the elbow or in the post—not only would it help his all-around game but it could help alleviate some of the stress he puts on his body.

They Said It…

 “Yeah, I mean he’s a monster. He’s very tough to handle in this league. We were just talking about it today, he’s you know, the strongest player in the league, in my opinion it’s not even close. He just gets in there and shoots a very high percentage and rebounds at a high level. A lot of things have been open for him. He’s been one-on-one in the post because teams start fronting me and don’t let me catch the ball. He’s been very effective and we need that from him.” — Wolves power forward Kevin Love on Pekovic’s impact

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