The sensation that is the buzz around New York’s Taiwan Don, Jeremy Lin, is special. Lin has a Knicks team steamrolling the league to seven straight victories without a full, healthy squad.
But if this weren’t happening in New York, one of the world’s best cities and the NBA’s very own baby, would anyone really care?
Meanwhile, in the cold tundra that is Minnesota, (Or that’s what people believe but it’s actually been the warmest winter to date) Nikola Pekovic is literally steamrolling his opponents to obliteration. He’s not rolling the Wolves to seven straight victories, in fact, the Wolves just broke a four game losing streak last night. But Pek’s accomplishments have been overlooked due to all of the Linsanity. The NBA has another international sensation establishing his name in the NBA.
Last night against the Charlotte Bobcats, Pek posted 21 points and 11 boards. Bobcats’ head coach, Paul Silas, mentioned that his team did a good job of keeping Love contained; they forced him into taking long shots, moving him away from the basket. “But the other kid. Pep-a-vich his name is? Whatever, he just killed down there.”
That’s like saying, “What’s his name? Wang? Yeah, he’s good.”
Okay, maybe not. Lin is Lin and he’s doing his thing, while Pek is ripping opponents limb from limb up here in Minny. Different tales, different coverage. But just because Pek doesn’t own that coy and bashful persona doesn’t mean he hasn’t earned the attention.
Since being inserted into the starting lineup less than a month ago in place of Darko Milicic, the 6’11″, 290 lb behemoth has scored in double-digits in every game but one. Of those 12 in double-digits, seven he was able to record a double-double. The numbers compared to last season are worthy of Most Improved Player honors.
What’s so lovable about Pek’s game is his how sound but goofy it is. Pek’s footwork on the block is above-average but it’s his strength and positioning that allows him so many easy looks inside. He comes down the court, sets up his post directly under the hoop, gets bumped out maybe once or twice but still, his position is so perfect already, the defender has no room once Pek gets the entry pass. Even when he doesn’t have that great of position, Pek makes due with what he has by battling down with his shoulders and then utilizing a soft touch around the rim. He has an array of shots that all seem to get the job done, from the drop-step layup to the baby hook. What sums it all up, though, is how Pek takes his shot, watches it go through and then cross country skies back up the court, bobbing his head with every stride. He’s the definition of a troll, if you ask me. But a cuddly, teddy bear-like troll.
But this clumsy troll is putting up astounding numbers. His per-36 minute numbers are simply bewildering since being named the starter. 18 points and over 10 rebounds a game with a 61-percent field goal percentage. Those are top-5-best-center numbers behind the likes of centers like Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, Greg Monroe and Andrew Bynum. Pek’s true shooting percentage of 64-percent ranks second of all starting centers in the league, only behind Tyson Chandler, who dunks every shot he takes. Contributing to his high TS percentage are the 20 dunks he has this season, thwarting whatever the timid Darko Milicic had as a starter last year and this.
Last season, Pek averaged a turnover and a half in just 13 minutes a game. He also somehow managed to rack up nearly three fouls in those limited minutes as well. The transformation from Pek last year to Pek this year is astronomical. Part of the difference comes in part to his offensive rebounding rate of 17.7-percent, which rivals and completely trumps that of his teammate and the tip-in king, Kevin Love. More minutes equals more offensive rebounds equals more tip-in layups equals more points and a better efficiency rating.
Since Pek’s improvements are across the board, he’s been rewarded with one of the league’s best PER’s as a starting center at 21.71. No longer are the mental mistakes hindering his game, rather he’s taking care of the ball and being efficient with his looks.
The Wolves have desperately searched for a competent starting center their entire existence. Rasho Nesterovic, who started from 1999-2003, was the closest thing to a franchise center since this team’s conception. The Wolves’ misfortune at the position has been well-documented, from missing out on both Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning in the 1992 Draft to signing Michael Olowakandi, one of the NBA’s biggest draft busts taken first overall, in 2005.
Nobody expected Pek to be this good. Nobody. Last season, he showed glimpses of having a serviceable post game coming off the bench. Other than that, he was turnover prone and one of the biggest hacks in the league. He spent most possessions scrambling to spots on the floor, posting up and then flailing upwards in hopes of a foul only to turn the ball over. His defense was even more frightening.
But this season is much different, and thanks to his newfound efficiency and dominance, the Wolves may just have found they’re first cornerstone center in franchise history.