Last night at the Target Center, the Wolves FINALLY put it all together and ended their four-game losing streak with a victory over the woeful Charlotte Bobcats. Kevin Love had another signature performance with 30 points and 18 rebounds, and the team cut down on their turnovers, which majorly plagued them during the losing streak. Although the victory was against perhaps the worst team in the league, a win’s a win, and hopefully the Wolves can continue the momentum and for a little run. Despite losing four in a row, the Wolves are only two games out of the final playoff spot in the West. What can’t be overlooked this season is the sudden, out of nowhere ascension of little known Montenegro Center, Nikola Pekovic. Last night Nikola was key down the stretch in the fourth quarter with 21 points and 11 rebounds overall.
While not on the level of “Linsanity,” that has swept New York Knicks fans off their feet, Nikola has quietly had a similar story in that he has played at a level that no Wolves fan could have expected him to this season. Drafted as an afterthought (31st overall in the 2008 Draft), Nikola has sat on the bench his entire career behind Darko Milicic. Now that Darko has been plagued by injuries this season, Nikola has gotten his chance and has responded. He has averaged 23 minutes a game and has put up 11.6 points and 6.7 rebounds. Darko, on the other hand, has averaged 17 minutes a game with 5.3 points and 4 rebounds. When Darko comes back healthy, Rick Adelman is going to have to decide whether to give Darko his starting spot back. To me, it’s an easy decision: keep Nikola as the starting center.
Nikola brings toughness to the Wolves frontcourt that Darko lacks. Darko is a streaky player—when things are going well he can dominate for stretches, but he’s almost useless when the shots aren’t falling. He’s not an exceptionally good rebounder, and gets beat easily by quicker centers. Nikola brings that “it” factor, those intangibles that can’t be measured. I’ve watched a lot of Wolves games this year and you can just see how much tougher the team is to score on when Nikola is manning the middle. Pekovic also has a surprisingly more well-rounded offensive game; he can turn and shoot from both sides of his body while Darko is either hook shot or bust.
If Minnesota somehow goes on a run and improbably makes the playoffs, Nikola is integral to the team’s success and should get the bulk of the minutes. The only reason Darko might regain his starting spot is because he was a former high draft pick, and the Wolves are paying him a ton of money. Hopefully, Adelman’s dedication is solely to winning and he sticks Darko on the bench behind Pekovic. Nikola quietly is having a brilliant season. He has the physical toughness to hang with the elite centers in the NBA. Although he might get beaten more often than not, you can tell that guys get frustrated with him and lose their cool. Nikola has done a great job of playing his role as a defensive anchor and occasional scorer. In this season of NBA surprises, a new one has risen in the tundra of Minnesota, and hopefully there will be more frequent sightings of the Montenegro Mauler.