Thunder 106, Wolves 84: The pen I don't know how to use
After a night of next to zero sleep (not Wolves related, just your basic insomnia), I was in a zombionic haze all day long. Because of this, I never got around to writing a recap of the Wolves’ loss to the Thunder from Wednesday night. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to write about it; I just didn’t really know what to say about it.
The Wolves are incredibly short-handed, especially with Barea missing the game. Having three guards, one of them on a minutes restriction due to ACL rehabilitation, is not an ideal situation for facing Russell Westbrook. Throw in the fact that Kevin Love isn’t around and the Wolves are almost out of shooting guards, and you could see the writing on the wall before this game even started. And that’s fine. You can’t expect to have a Disney moment every time this season. The Thunder are just too good to topple consistently. They aren’t going to let that Wizards game happen often.
While trying to come up with something to write, I looked at a pen I recently got and couldn’t help but think about Nikola Pekovic.
When my parents were in town over the holidays, we went to Martin Patrick in North Loop. It’s pretty close to my place and probably my favorite store in Minneapolis. It has a ton of cool and reasonably priced men’s stuff, along with a lot of other things. But this isn’t an advertisement for Martin Patrick. This is about a pen and Nikola Pekovic. As I try to become more of an adult, I decided that something grown men seem to have on them is a really nice pen. It’s like their calling card or something they use to write their direct line on their calling card.
It just seems very grown-up to have.
As any adult does, he has his dad buy him said pen. Well, that’s not really how it went down but he wanted to buy me something and he noticed my interest in some really nice pens the store had for sale. So now I have this great pen and I really like it. The weight to it is perfect. You know you’re holding more than your standard Bic pen, but it’s not some unfathomable paperweight that makes me think I could stand to do some extra bicep curls (although I could).
There is an understated sleekness to the pen. It isn’t a pen where you push a button or twist the body to be able to write. You just pull the cap off of it and it’s ready to go. The cap complements the body of the pen perfectly. It catches the eye but allows it to wander away. I’m really happy I have this pen. It’s something I carry on me at all times. I either have it in my laptop bag with me at games, or I have it in the inside pocket of my jacket. It’s accompanied by a little notebook that I keep with me. I’m always ready to write a note now.
Here’s the problem though. We live in 2013 and I’m not really a businessperson.
I’m not writing checks. I’m not giving people business cards that I don’t have. I don’t even have the direct line that would be something special for someone who might find a random reason to need to be a preferred client and get in touch with me at the drop of a hat. Hell, I don’t even have clients. YOU people are my clients and I don’t even know if that’s true.
Also, with today’s technology I have a special pen to use when I will most naturally just turn to my iPhone if I need to make a quick note. I’m probably quicker at typing than I am at writing and my penmanship looks like I’ve had a stroke. I feel like having this special and unique pen is going to pay off someday and probably someday soon as I get into more professional moments more often with my career. However, I’m not sure how much sense it actually made to acquire this utensil.
And that’s where I stand with the Nikola Pekovic contract year. Pek is going to get paid an ungodly amount of money this summer. Everyone expects the Portland Trail Blazers to make him an offer close to the max (or maybe even the max) because they 1) want to put pressure on the Wolves the same way the Wolves put pressure on them with Nicolas Batum (it’s not really even close to the same situation but if you’re crazy Paul Allen then it’s how you view the situation with all of the history these two teams have with each other) and 2) even if they get stuck with Pek at the max, they’re perfectly happy to add him to their roster. You know why?
Because Pek is really freaking good.
I know it’s a weird thing to get used to but I think I’ve finally accepted it. Pek is awesome. Is he one of the top centers in the NBA? I’m not sure about that. I know he’s definitely a top 10 center and he’s probably in the discussion for top 5 centers right now. But regardless, he’s a big man who has had a positive effect on both ends of the floor this season. Two years ago, I would have thought this is impossible but this is the work Pek has put in with the coaching staff to become.
There are three players in the NBA right now who average at least 16 points, eight rebounds, shoot 51% or better from the field and 70% or better from the free throw line. LeBron James and David Lee are two of those guys. Pek is the other. In the last five seasons, 11 players have done this 16 times. Pek is one of those 11 players and really the only one you wouldn’t give big money to is Luis Scola. Pek is not Luis Scola. Scola isn’t bad but he isn’t a plus on the defensive end like Pek is now.
If Pek gets a max contract offer from the Portland Trail Blazers, you’re looking at four years and roughly $65 million. That sounds like a lot of money because it is a lot of money. Probably best-case scenario for a low Pekovic salary is around four years and $50 million. He’s going to command 10 figures, no matter who scoffs at that idea right now. Big men get paid in this league and if you want a good big man, you have to open up the pocket book or search between the couch cushions for some extra change. That’s just the way of this NBA world.
To say Pek isn’t worth that money is not something I’m sure I agree with. Is that an ideal salary to pay him? Not really. Is it an outrageous salary to pay Pekovic? Not really. It ties up a lot of money between Pekovic, Love, and eventually Rubio. Realistically, you’re looking at roughly 80% of your year’s salary cap number wrapped up in those three players once Rubio gets his extension in a couple seasons. But until then, you’ll have a bit of flexibility to add one more player, either through trade or free agency (after Kirilenko is off the books in 2014). By giving Pekovic this money, you’re not killing flexibility. You’re just putting a shot clock on how you add to your team.
When the Wolves decided to give Love a third year opt-out option instead of five years, they already put a shot clock on adding to this team so that doesn’t really change anything.
The question is does Pekovic staying on the team for a big price tag work in today’s NBA?
The NBA has become a fast game of spreading the floor, dominating the perimeter, and playing good defense while rebounding well. Does this sound like the Timberwolves? I actually think it might sound like them a little bit. The Wolves are trying to spread the floor and you’d imagine if you have a healthy Love, a healthy Chase, and Shved spotting up on the floor more often than shooting off the dribble, that’s a pretty decent set of perimeter options for Rubio to dish to.
Then having the presence of Pek or Love at any given time inside allows you to play inside out, outside in and everywhere in between. This team is a very good defensive team right now that struggles to score baskets. As they get healthier, it’s safe to assume the offense will come easier and actually the defense will be able to stay close to where it currently is. I believe the Miami Heat have shown us that dominating the perimeter on defense allows you to control the paint. And that’s important.
It doesn’t mean that the Wolves are the Miami Heat or even necessarily following that model. But having Andrei Kirilenko and a healthy Ricky Rubio gives you a great defensive presence on the perimeter. Add another wing player who can do similar things and you could really have a fearsome perimeter wall. Then you’re just asking Pekovic and Love to be in position eight times out of ten and rebound the ball. I think they can do that. Whether it leaves them with enough talent to challenge the elite in the NBA, that’s a completely different story that looks less likely. However, the model and direction seems to be more in line with today’s NBA than you might initially think.
It’s why I think Pek does sort of fit into today’s NBA. He’s not Tyson Chandler by any means, but he knows how to get in position, hold that position, and rebound the basketball. If he’s giving you 16 points or more on the offensive end while not being a liability at the line then you’ve got a really good big man. He might even end up being a consistent top 5 center in this league. How long can he keep that up? I don’t know.
But it makes me think that paying Pekovic a large amount of money to stay on this roster is not a bad thing. We’ve acquired the special pen and it’s really cool to have. We might not know what to do with it yet, but trust me that it’s a mature and grown-up tool to have at our disposal. Health and chemistry down the road will ultimately be the tell-all indicator of whether or not this is a good pen to have.
I have no idea if this is a championship path the Wolves are on. Most likely, it’s not but Pekovic is a very good player now and he’s fun to have. Being able to joke with other fans about his prowess and listen to his influence on the team is a lot of fun. Knowing that Kendrick Perkins is going to try to get tough and then realize he doesn’t have the minerals when Pek doesn’t back down is a cool card to have up your shooting sleeve. And up his shooting sleeve, he has a tattoo of a giant bear because “everybody’s scared of bears.”
Pek brings toughness and work ethic to the team. Seeing him out there reminds you of how far he’s come as a player and how hard guys need to work in this league to stay there. The Wolves will not be pushed around with him on the court. He is the push. He is an asset. He is an attitude. He is the meat-grinder in the post.
I can’t tell you for sure that he’ll live up to a big contract like he’ll receive this summer. However, if he gets it and we match it, I know I’ll be happy he’s still on the team. In fact, I’m going to write that down with my pen right now.