Nikola Pekovic has been officially cleared for full contact practice, meaning he should be returning soon. The bruising big man wears his ‘injury-prone’ tag proudly next to his ‘overpaid’ label. But fans still love Pek. He scares opponents with his size and his tattoos. While he doesn’t play defense, when healthy he is one of the more offensively-gifted centers in the game today. He has a nice post game and before he had his ankle issues, he developed something that looked like a jump shot.
Pekovic got injured a little bit after signing a 5-year, $60 million contract extension mainly because the Wolves wanted to secure the big man to play alongside Kevin Love. Flash forward and now Kevin Love is gone, Kevin Garnett is back, and the Wolves drafted one of the most talented players at the same position in Karl-Anthony Towns. Gorgui Dieng still remains as well, who was originally drafted to back up Pekovic to balance out defensively.
Pek finds himself potentially as the 3rd-string center on the team. He has too big of a contract and is injured too often to be traded at this point. So where does Pek fit in to the Wolves rotation? To preface what we think, we must note that Sam Mitchell will probably do exactly the opposite. Sam Mitchell’s rotations have been head-scratching at best and no one knows how he feels about Pekovic and how he will manage his injury/ playing time.
While things in Minnesota look bleak for Pekovic, he may actually be in an ideal situation. He was being overplayed before which caused him to keep getting injured. The Wolves no longer lack depth in their front court so seeing Pekovic play 10-15 minutes a night may be in the best interest of both parties. Pekovic matching up against opposing benches would also be in the Wolves’ favor as he may as well eat them alive while not having to worry much defensively.
Pekovic returning would mean the Wolves could see Gorgui Dieng get more minutes at the power forward position alongside KAT. Especially on Garnett rest days, Dieng and Towns could start alongside each other and Pekovic could take minutes at the 5 while rotating between the three big men. This would reduce minutes, hopefully, for Adrien Payne and the now struggling Bjelica. Even if Payne or Bjelica get time, both fit well with Pekovic offensively as they both like to spend time behind the 3-point line, opening up the paint for Pekovic. Pekovic will also work well on pick and rolls with LaVine and the emerging Tyus Jones.
In summary we should see rotations as such:
With Garnett (Minutes in parentheses)
C – Towns (28)/ Dieng (10)/ Pekovic (10)
PF – Garnett (15) / Dieng (14) / Bjelica (5) / Payne (4)
C – Towns (33)/ Pekovic (12)/ Dieng (3)
PF – Dieng (30)/ Bjelica (9)/ Payne (9)
The entire Bjelica and Payne situation seems to be still in flux. Depending on the matchups and who is playing well, one or the other or both could play. But Dieng should spend more time at the 4 with Garnett out and Pekovic still can play around 10-12 minutes a game.
But where does Pekovic fit into the Wolves long-term? The Wolves obviously have Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng as their centerpieces in the front court. Trading Pekovic could be an option. There has been talks that the Bulls would be interested in trading Noah for Pekovic since Noah will be a free agent this summer. There is also the possibility that Pekovic retires early and his contract clears off of the Wolves’ books, but it seems unlikely.
The Wolves will we’d to utilize him until either his contract expires or until he has some sort of trade bake. He eventually (17-18 season) will be an expiring contract, in which he will have value in that sense. Trading an expiring contract of that size ($11.6 million) could add a nice piece to the roster, especially since it’ll be a time in which the Wolves should be competitive. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
Let us know your thoughts on this. A healthy Pekovic regardless will be good for the Wolves. We hope he can remain healthy, even if he is never the same player again.