T-Wolf Rank: #3: Nikola Pekovic

Nikola Pekovic was one of Minnesota’s most pleasant surprises last year.

We have reached the Top 3 of T-Wolf Rank. We hope you have enjoyed reading the posts as much as we have enjoyed writing them. As always, you can follow Jonah (@howlintwolf) Derek (@DerekJamesNBA) and Tom (@Tom_NBA) on Twitter as well.

Last year, about this time, I began a Howlin T-Wolf post on a YouTube video that I found hilarious: a highlight montage of Nikola Pekovic. It was a two minute barrage of well-manipulated plays that made Pek look like an All-Star. Pek would score a basket, while in the background the ref would blow his whistle and motion for traveling (the whistle covered by loud hip-hop music). Or he would bowl over a defender on his way to the basket and get called for a charge. I never finished the post, but I really should have. It was right up my alley: snarky and unkind. I’m great at those, whatever that means about me as a person.

The fact was that Pek’s career really hadn’t included any highlights. In his first season, it would be a massive understatement to say he struggled with foul trouble. Per 36 minutes, Pek averaged 7.3 fouls, meaning that he committed more fouls than are permitted in 12 minutes fewer than an NBA game.

But despite his inability to stay on the floor, we knew Pekovic had a couple of good traits that might work well in the NBA. We knew, for example, that he had good footwork and that he was incredibly strong. We knew that he had feathery soft touch around the basket. We knew that he had a huge body, one that could take up a lot of space in the lane or on pick and rolls. What we failed to take into account was the fact that his less desirable qualities were actually very fixable. So when he played a very solid season in 2012, we were all shocked, but if we had given it some thought, we probably could have seen it coming. Somewhat.

But Pek formed a tough trio with #1 and #2 on this list, benefitting greatly both from Kevin Love’s extended range and the pick and roll opportunities created by Ricky Rubio, making him one of the surprise untradeables of the offseason. He gave opposing big men fits and quickly replaced my least favorite player on the roster (Darko), much to my delight. He played within himself, knowing his own strengths and weaknesses, and fouling much less. He even dropped 30 points against the Rockets in February.

So where does Pek go from here? I wrote this about how Pekovic should have been Most Improved Player last season (despite Jonah’s name on the post). He won’t improve that much again, but could he average 20 points per game? Could he become an All-Star in the Western Conference, which now features just one franchise center (Howard)? Can he make something better than the “Where in the World is Nikola Pekovic?” video? Who knows? He’s 26 years old, but he’s only a third year NBA player, so he’s still developing.

I have no idea what Pek will do this season, which is kind of fun. But here’s a new, well-deserved highlight video for one of the most important players on the Timberwolves roster. The top comment says “SAMO NAPRED,” which, according to Google Translate, means “Only Forward.”

That seems appropriate.

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