Last season, Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic averaged five points and three rebounds per game. Over the last eight games, the big man has averaged 17 PPG and 10.5 RPG. When struggling starting center Darko Milicic found himself sidelined in late January due to illness, Pekovic stepped in—and he hasn’t looked back.
A couple weeks ago, head coach Rick Adelman responded to questions about altering his starting rotation in a game against New Jersey. “Someone has to separate themselves to change things up,” Adelman said. “A guy does great one night and the next night he doesn’t. Once you start making changes and it goes the other direction, then where do you go with that?”
Pekovic couldn’t be more clear to Timberwolves fans and basketball critics everywhere—2012 is his year. He’s separating himself from the crowd.
The 26 year old was born in Montenegro, a small country located southwest of Serbia. In 2005 he played on the European team KK Partizan, where he won three Serbian League championships (2006, 2007, 2008), two Adriatic League championships (2007, 2008) and the Serbian Cup in 2008. He was named the MVP of the Adriatic League Final Four in 2008.
Minnesota selected Pekovic No. 31 overall in the 2008 NBA Draft, but because of his European contract, it wasn’t until June 2010 that he officially signed a three-year contract with the Timberwolves. The deal was worth $13 million. Up until this year, Pekovic struggled to find consistency in minutes or point totals. All that has changed.
Although possessing a build similar to Milicic, Pekovic uses his size much more effectively than his fellow center. While Milicic is often criticized for playing soft, Pekovic shows aggression in the post, fighting for boards and hustling on every play.
“That guy is hard to stop,” teammate Michael Beasley said. “When you can move your feet like that, 300 pounds, 7 feet, it’s almost impossible to stop him. He’s as strong as an ox, and he can do what he wants out there.”
Perhaps it’s because he’s stationed on the northernmost edge of the NBA map, rather than in New York, where a couple of high-scoring nights is enough to set off a media phenomenon rife with word play and hyperbole. Regardless, though, Pekovic should be getting a lot more attention than he is, and he may be the best thing that’s happened to the Timberwolves in the past two weeks.
I know what you skeptics are thinking—could this be a fluke? Will we turn on the game one night only to see the big man blunder and regress to bench-warming status?
Sure, it’s possible.
But I don’t think that will happen.
Look at Pekovic, and you’ll see a man quietly waiting to form a name for himself. With wide-set eyes, a brooding brow and peculiar tattoos etched onto a large frame, he’s a man of few words. However, he brings with him onto the court a quiet confidence—a stability his teammates can count on.
Minnesota guard Wayne Ellington commented, “I love playing with him because he gets you wide open […]. Off the court, he’s a calm, cool guy. On the court, he’s one of those guys you avoid. He’s the type of guy you avoid.”
What does the big man have to say on the rare occasions he opens up to the media?
“I’m just trying to use everything, every moment, every minute on the court,” he said. “Just trying to use that and be productive for the team. (Fans) really appreciate what I’m doing. I’m really happy for that […]. I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.”
You keep doing what you’re doing, Pek.
We’ll keep rooting for you.
Lindsey Young is a graduate of Northwestern College and an avid Minnesota sports fan[atic]. It’s been argued females don’t know much about sports, but she begs to differ. Currently working full time at her alma mater, she continues to edit and write for BleacherReport.com and on her blog Making the Call in pursuit of a career in sports journalism. You can follow her on Twitter @lilshortie2712.