Exit Interviews: Nikola Pekovic

Big Pek,

Judging by this picture of you in the hospital, you must’ve been awfully distraught after being thwarted in the MIP race. I totally thought you had it in the bag, as did you, purely speculating from your pain-filled facial expression.

I’m just kidding. We all know you just underwent surgery, and we’re happy to hear that all went well and it was a success. The road to recovery is a long and trying path but we know you can overcome the tribulations and return to your battering ram form that took the league — and some of its best big men — by surprise.

Speaking of your elevated play this last season, we couldn’t be happier with how vastly your game improved from your rookie year to this. If you haven’t read Tom’s piece on why you should’ve won the MIP award, — yes, we’re still bitter — well, you should. But if you don’t find the time, allow me to ramble off some stats your way. Your PPG jumped up 8.4. We saw your shooting and true shooting percentages increase 0.47 and 0.34, respectively. You bullied your way in the paint much more, which led to an additional 4.4 RPG from last year to this. And you managed to increase your minutes on the floor without committing so many petty personal fouls.

But the biggest, and perhaps most frightening stat was the surge in your PER. You went from a posting a dismal 11.2 in 2010-2011 to a scary-good 21.4 this season, the second highest tally on the team behind only Kevin Love. Partly because of that, you and Love ended up forming a dangerous duo in the frontcourt that could very well compete, and even obliterate, some of the strongest front lines in the NBA.

Honestly, it’s hard to really capture and describe how much your improvement helps our chances at, well, improving. The bruising offensive style of your game beautifully contrasts Love’s new perimeter-hawking tendencies, which allows us to swallow up offensive boards better than anyone in the game, and we could tell you found a chemistry catching passes from Ricky Rubio. And your newfound fancy footwork in the post is simply outstanding. Paired with your special touch underneath, you made some of the NBA’s toughest post defenders look simply incompetent matched up against you. You were like Al Jefferson minus the jumpshot, plus a more battering, brute approach to your post game. It was just a phenomenal sight to see you blossom as your minutes increased this season. It’s just a shame that you had to go down with those nagging injuries, but, like I said, we’re not worried about your pending recovery.

But something continues to perplex me. How does one go from barely being D-League material to being considered a top 10, maybe top 5, center in the whole league? Was it a fluke? Or did you truly feel out the NBA game enough after that first year to become more comfortable? I don’t know which answer is right. I know which one I want to be true but we’ll never know until you fully recover from surgery and begin working on the court again this offseason.

The bottom line is that your unprecedented contribution this season were nearly unfathomable but truly a blessing. No longer do we need to search for a starting center, that is as long as your improve your defense and shot blocking ability. We’re likely not going to find a replacement any time soon because this franchise has never found a cornerstone center to hang its hat on but you’re the closest thing we’ll get to that. Believe me, that’s a compliment.

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