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The Peak of Mount Pekovic

 
The Peak of Mount Pekovic

Photo - Jared Wickerham (Getty Images)

By: Joe Perovich, Productions/Promotions Intern

“He came in like a wrecking ball….”

In other words, the maiden voyage of Nikola Pekovic to the NBA was a bumpy one.

Despite standing 6’10” and carrying 290lbs. around everywhere he went, Pekovic was no exception to the trepidation every NBA G.M. has when considering a European prospect: “Should we take this guy with a first-round pick, effectively guaranteeing him money whether he leaves his home country or not?”

DraftExpress, a thorough and credible NBA draft-oriented website, paints the picture of Pekovic beginning as an unknown-variable-morphed-late-first-rounder, and finally leveling off as one of the first few picks in the second round (again, because GM’s like “guarantees”). ESPN’s NBA Draft analyst Fran Frischilla took the Pekovic stock a step further, remarking, “[Pekovic] is a mid-lottery talent. He’s a mean, nasty joker” on Draft Day 2008.

The Minnesota Timberwolves took the gamble. “With the first pick (in round two) of the 2008 NBA Draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves select, Nikola Pekovic!”

Two whole years passed before the Serbian big man actually donned a Minnesota uniform. Pekovic took to the court and proved to everyone that he was well worth their patience.

Well, no, not at first.

A conversation that probably took place in 2010: “Who’s better at basketball: Nikola Pekovic, or a person that hasn’t even been born yet?”

Every fumbled ball was more evidence of a fumbled draft pick. Every turnover was more evidence for the case of turning over the entire front office and starting anew.

Pekovic’s grizzly-esque lumbering made you want to offer him to Memphis just to see if they’d bite on a probable fan-favorite. He was as mobile as a mannequin, and as athletic as a statue.

Remember, Nikola Pekovic turned 25 during his rookie season in 2010-11. If the above description had been entailing a typical rookie from the states,  it would end with “Sure, but he’s 19, there’s room to grow, and he won’t even entering his prime for 5-6 years.”

In this case, we were witnessing the dawn of Nikola Pekovic’s supposed prime years. The appetizer didn’t do the entrée justice.

To convey how bleak it was, in his 2010-11 rookie season…

  • Pekovic’s Per 48 (average stat if he plays all 48 minutes of a game) in turnovers averaged was 6.0 per game!
  • Pekovic averaged 1.4 TO/game in the 13.6 minutes per game he averaged. That is only 0.2 less than his 1.6 TO/game average this season, in which he plays 20 more minutes a game on average. Also, check his average for personal fouls in the link above How did he manage to average more fouls in a season he played on average 20 fewer minutes?!
  • The Timberwolves’ offensive rating (the number of points a team scores per 100 possessions) was 99.6 when Pekovic was on the court. It was 105.6 when he was off the court.

We won’t beat a dead horse, because that’s exactly what it is. That guy that played in Pekovic’s place during 2010-2011 was left in the Serbian-equivalent of Siberia, and forth emerging from the smoke was the player that analysts had touted.

These days, Kevin Love sees similarities to a Die Hard villain. The tattoo emblazoned across Pekovic’s arm, a warrior posing on a giant pile of skulls, is symbolic of the physical terror he strikes in the hearts of opposing big men. All of this intimidation, but has he refined his game?

Da.

That could be a typo, or it could be “Yes” in Serbian.

Through the 34 games he has played in the 2013-14 NBA season, the Montenegrin Dothraki is No. 17 in made field goals (good sign: he’s not in Top 20 of attempts), No. 3 in offensive rebounds, No. 14 in total rebounds, and No. 17 in free throws attempted at 72% (a great % for a NBA center and valuable as it gives the T’Wolves a good free throw shooter at a position where many have poor ones).

Pekovic is also on pace for 43 double-doubles in 2013-14. He had 26 all of last year.

Nikola Pekovic, like many others on the roster, are experiencing individual achievements this season. That being said, why is the W/L column identical to one another? It’s because every individual that is having a good season is simultaneously lacking somewhere else. For example, Rubio is excelling in assists and steals, but his shooting has been historically dismal. When you add in bench inefficiency, the troubles are pretty understandable.

In Pekovic’s case, he has not dissolved of a few of his fatal flaws. For as much of an advantage as his body and improved fundamentals have given him, he needs to become more consistent at finishing around the rim (most frustrating flaw he has, as a lot of his misses are weird, non-contested shots that he just can’t get to fall). He also is still very sub-par defensively, and there’s not much you can control there aside from smart positioning.

Care about that stat called ‘Win Shares’ at all? ‘Win Shares’ is actually a pretty revealing window to a player’s impact on the game. It’s a metric that estimates the number of wins a player produces for his team based on their offensive/defensive contributions). The NBA Win Shares leaders: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, etc., meaning you know it’s not smoke and mirrors or something that any player can have their name show up in.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have a single, solitary name in the Top 20 of ‘Win Shares’. It’s not the guy that Minnesota fans are pushing to get into the All-Star Game right now.

It’s the guy no GM wanted to guarantee money to: Nikola Pekovic.

He is 20th in Win Shares with 4.0. His company? He’s tied with Roy Hibbert, 0.1 behind Dwight Howard and James Harden, and 0.2 behind Carmelo Anthony and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Define irony: Kevin McHale’s best draft since 1995 was the one he never was able to see come into its own. He and Timberwolves’ management parted ways on June 20th, 2009. This locked in that McHale’s last mark as general manager of Minnesota would be his picks in the 2008 NBA Draft: Kevin Love & Nikola Pekovic.

Welcome to The Peak of Mount Pekovic. Don’t trip over any skulls on your way down.

 

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