When is the last time this organization had toughness?
Perhaps Kevin Garnett wasn’t the epitome of a bar fight — despite what he may have blurted out at Craig Sager — but he at least feigned an attitude of some mental toughness, whether he was actually ready to risk a suspension or not. But pure brute strength and toughness is not something we’re used to seeing on our end of the floor at the Target Center. We’re not used to seeing everybody trying to figure out how to deal with the big guy on our team. We’re not used to seeing a little scrap break out and an opponent from the other team immediately go joke with our big guy to make sure he doesn’t get involved.
In the course of about eight months, Pek went from being an overmatched backup big man to the Chuck Norris of the NBA.
From his pitbull (the dog, not the little guy shouting into a microphone) build to his tattoos of soldiers stabbing a hill of skulls to his wrecking ball elbows and redwood tree roots for legs, the physical of presence Pek gives to a painted area can be apocalyptic. Watch him get set into position on the low block and you’ll see a helpless defender hanging on for dear life. His drop step moves everything out of the way like a bulldozer clearing a path to new construction. You’d have an easier time uprooting half of Yellowstone National Park than getting Pek out of position for the offensive boards, as evident by his 16.1% offensive rebounding rate (second in the league behind Reggie Evans).
Pekovic’s leaps and bounds from last season’s disappointing debut weren’t just a pleasant surprise; they were an unexpected balance to the offense. Ricky Rubio knew how to find Pek off of pick-and-rolls and for quick hits whenever he would chug down the floor and plant himself in the middle of the key. Pek pulled an Andrew Bynum on many possessions. He’d be in the key for what seemed like an eternity. I don’t know if the referees just didn’t notice his residency inside the paint or if they were too scared to call him for a violation. Regardless, Pek knew how to use position against a defensive interior like a boxer pelts a midsection with body blows.
And that’s really what Pekovic was for the Wolves all year. He wasn’t an All-Star player, but he was as impactful on many nights. He wore down the defense inside and that allowed Kevin Love to open up his game on the outside. He gave Rubio a target. He gave CPR to possessions that normally would have ended in a missed shot and a rebound going the other way. He rarely delivered the knockout punch in wins, but he set up the haymakers all night long.
Nikola Pekovic gave the Wolves toughness and production at a position where they were just hoping for a slight pulse. Once it was apparent that his time in the offseason and the coaching staff’s work was paying off with Pek, it gave the Wolves an advantage on a lot of nights at a place where our best historical option was Rasho Nesterovic. The Wolves now had an enforcer that didn’t need to huff and puff to get you to sell your house.
Danny Granger and Kevin Love start yelling at each other? Dahntay Jones starts joking with Pek to make sure he doesn’t decide to end it. Can’t possibly deal with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol inside? Andrew Bynum is now saying post-game “thank god they took Pekovic out of the game.” Don’t want to play Darko anymore crucial minutes that end in the negative? You don’t have to; in fact, you should probably amnesty him to acquire a needed player.
Pekovic’s emergence was a resolution as much as he was a revolution to this team. He changed the attitude of this team from timid to confident.
When’s the last time this organization had that?