This is the 12th in a 14-part series evaluating each Timberwolves player’s performance during the 2013-14 season. Find the entire series here.
At the NBA campaign’s midway point, Nikola Pekovic had more than merited the maximum contract extension he signed last summer.
By the end, it was just another injury-saddled season.
All-Star discussion gave way to further solidification that until the Timberwolves’ top big man can stay healthy, he remains a liability. Each of his four years since coming over from Europe, Pekovic has missed at least 17 games.
But if Minnesota ever does get closer to a full year of Pekovic, watch out.
It remains uncanny how such a large, brutish man can exhibit such soft hands and coordination around a basketball hoop. Standing 6-foot-11 and weighing 285 pounds, Pekovic seems to add muscle every offseason. Yet he continues to display the finesse that’s made him one of the few true scoring centers left in the league. His most recent campaign was his best, as the Montenegrin big man averaged 17.5 points. For the fourth straight season, he shot better than 50 percent and even developed a short jumper to go with his superior post moves. Before he missed the majority of the Timberwolves’ home stretch, he led the league in points in the paint.
Pekovic’s 8.7 boards per game wasn’t the top mark of his four-year NBA career, but it’s as close as a guy can get. Continuing his emergence as one of the league’s toughest rebounders — he averaged 8.8 in 2012-13 — he was particularly effective on the offensive glass. In Minnesota’s first 44 games, he averaged four offensive rebounds per game and led the league in second-chance points. His ability to clear out the paint helped the Timberwolves become one of the league’s top rebounding teams; their 44.7 boards per game tied for sixth in the NBA. Of course, having a fully healthy Kevin Love helped astronomically.
Playing in the Timberwolves’ first 44 contests represented the longest healthy stretch of Pekovic’s career. A history of nagging injuries prompted a new workout regimen with team trainers and a series of playing-time incentives on top of his five-year, $60 million extension. It all seemed to be working until Jan. 27, when Pekovic exited Minnesota’s game against the Bulls six minutes in. He wouldn’t come back until March 1 after being diagnosed with bursitis in his right ankle. Lingering soreness caused him to miss 15 of the Timberwolves’ final 18 contests.
Pekovic, 28, has entrenched himself as one of basketball’s most formidable post players when he’s on the floor. The catch, though, is he has a hard time staying on it. Continued development under Minnesota’s training staff should help. So should limiting his minutes, as president of basketball operations Flip Saunders has guaranteed for next season. With backup Ronny Turiaf hurt for much of the year and rookie Gorgui Dieng not blossoming till late, coach Rick Adelman played Pekovic 30.8 minutes per game; Saunders would like to see that number closer to 27 or 28, and Dieng ought to take some of the pressure off.