When Talking About (and Remembering) Nikola Pekovic
It’s September. Media day, while not yet officially announced, will happen sooner than the masses are ready for. And then there will be basketball.
Media day is usually the moment when basketball fans (and its media) start to really feel the weight of the moment. It’s the first time they see the players in uniform, and the first time they can really start to see the beginning complexion of their team.
Then there’s the players, typically joyful and optimistic about the season ahead. Whether they’ve gained 15 pounds of muscle, lost body fat over a carb-free diet, spent the summer with coach Frank or discovered yoga, there’s almost always something that the players can speak on with some level of joy on media day.
Last season, Nikola Pekovic did not have any stories to share. A typical presence of joy in the locker room and elsewhere, Pek appeared unusually bummed and downtrodden. When the question, naturally surrounding his health (Pek had missed several games in 2014-15, and his status for 2015-16 was not clear to that point), optimism seemed to be the furthest thing from his mind.
There’s little doubt that the sentiment when (or if) Pekovic makes his way to the mic at this year’s media day availability that much of the chatter of his health will be the same. It’s entirely possible that we won’t ever see the Nikola Pekovic of old ever again. What’s important to remember is, not only how much of a bummer that is from a salary cap standpoint, but how much the Wolves, and the modern day center, lose with Pek’s injury.
It’s a bit cliche, but watching Pekovic is fun, in part, because of his old school approach to the position. He couldn’t shoot outside of 10 feet, nor did he ever try to. He’s a big, brute, force inside that had some awesomely finesse prowess in the post when the situation called for it.
But what Pek was most known for came well before he had the ball in his hands. What gave Pek his man eater calling card was his ability to get post position with more ease than anyone else in the league.
Between the years of 2011 and 2014, Pekovic was one of the best post-up centers in the NBA. He shot well over 50 percent each of those years, especially after being placed in the starting lineup in January of 2012. He averaged over 16 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, all while shooting 54 percent from the field. Those are fantastic numbers for a center, in today’s NBA, that doesn’t spread the floor. He was so good for a stretch in 2013-14, some even considered him an All Star candidate. Remember #PekGoesToo?
And while his defense was never his strength, his literal strength made it nearly impossible for those he guarded to make anything happen in the paint.
My personal favorite part his game, and perhaps the most underrated aspect, was his ability to run the floor. He’s 6’11, 307 pounds, but he would run the floor better than some who were 40 pounds lighter. He knew running the floor is a must, especially with Ricky Rubio as your team’s point guard, and he did it well.
But, with time, Pek’s lower body has given out. When he’s on the floor, he’s only a shell of what he was when he first entered the Wolves’ starting lineup. He can’t run the floor as well, can’t get position as well, and doesn’t finish at the rim as well. And that’s only when he was able to see the floor. The last two seasons, he’s only seen a total of 43 games, and just 12 last season.
It’s been a rough couple of years for Pekovic, but it’s important to remember why the Wolves signed him. The ability to predict which player could become injury prone borders on impossible, so originally signing him to that 5-year, $60 million extension was good in theory.
You can’t blame Pek for what’s happened, nor can you really blame management for it. Instead, don’t blame anybody. So when media day 2016 hits, don’t get upset, don’t get frustrated. Pek won’t be the last big man to unfortunately fall into an injury spell.
Media day may not be a highlight for Pek this year, but Pek at his best was more than a highlight. It’s better, more fun, and more worth your time to remember just how good Pek used to be for the Wolves. He may not get there again, but at least he was there. It was worth our time.