Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
When the All-Star starting lineups are announced Thursday night on TNT, Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic probably won't hear his name called.
But he will someday. In fact, you could argue that Pekovic deserves to be in this year's All-Star festivities.
With a season average of 18.2 ppg, only three centers in the NBA are averaging more points than the 28-year-old from Montenegro. You've probably heard of the three guys ahead of him, Houston's Dwight Howard (18.3 ppg), Charlotte's Al Jefferson (18.4 ppg) and Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins (leads all big men with 22.6 ppg).
Pekovic's contributions have gone largely unnoticed because of the talent that surrounds him in Minnesota. Kevin Love's sweet jumper routinely draws Larry Bird comparisons while teammate Ricky Rubio may as well be the Spanish version of Rajon Rondo. With those two hogging the spotlight, Pekovic can't seem to escape awkward third wheel status.
Maybe you have to see him in person to get the full experience. The first thing you'll notice about Pekovic is that he's huge. No need to get out the tape measure; NBA.com has him listed at 6-foot-11 and 285 pounds. That makes Pekovic the fourth-heaviest player in the league behind Glen Davis, Roy Hibbert and Al Jefferson.
But what really stands out about Pekovic is what he's done since December 1st. Prior to that date, Pekovic had looked a bit tentative on offense, tossing up just 11.6 field goal attempts per contest. Since then, he's been much more aggressive, averaging 15.5 shots in his last 23 games. The increase in shots has led to a five-point spike in ppg (15.2 ppg before December 1st, 20.7 since).
It's important for a player to know his limitations and that's something Pekovic has always done well. Pekovic doesn't have range outside of ten feet, which is why 86.6 percent of his field goal attempts this season have come from inside the paint. He's hit 58.1 percent of his shots from that distance while connecting on fewer than 39 percent of his field goals outside the paint (38.4 to be exact).
Minnesota features three players who average at least three and a half assists per game, which is obviously helping Pekovic in the low post. While Rubio and J.J. Barea have been giving, Pekovic has done most of the taking. Pekovic is third on the team in scoring but only seventh in assists (1.0 apg).
Another thing that's nice about Pekovic is that he isn't a liability when it comes to shooting free throws. Most centers are dreadful from the line but Pekovic has never shot worse than 74 percent since entering the league in 2010. That means head coach Rick Adelman doesn't have to bring in a sub for Pekovic late in games. Houston encounters this issue on a nightly basis when Hack-a-Howard comes into effect.
Kevin Love (team-leading 13.0 rpg) is as thorough as it gets when it comes to cleaning up the boards. Fortunately for fantasy owners, he does leave some for Pekovic, who is averaging a little over nine rebounds a game. Pekovic's 20 double-doubles ties him with Tristan Thompson and DeAndre Jordan for tenth in the NBA.
Certainly Pekovic has benefited statistically from Minnesota's lack of depth at center. Backup big men Gorgui Dieng and Ronny Turiaf are both averaging less than 15 minutes per game, which leaves about 33 for Pekovic. More minutes equals more stats. That's Fantasy 101.
There is a danger in relying too heavily on Pekovic, of course. He's generally regarded as a woeful defensive player and his block rate is alarmingly low for a player of his size and stature (0.5 bpg). And as massive as he is, Pekovic does have a reputation for being fragile. He missed at least 17 games in each of his first three seasons and it wouldn't be surprising if that trend continued in 2013-14.
Pekovic's shelf life in keeper formats is also limited. Even though he's only been in the league since 2010, Pekovic is already 28, an age when most players begin to decline. It will be interesting to see if Pekovic begins to show any fatigue in the second half after his sizzling start.
But hey, any guy who scores 18 points a game and looks like a James Bond villain is okay in my book.
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