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Friday / November 16 / 2012
On The Rise: Nikola Pekovic
pio garcia

Every year, there are new faces that could earn the label of NBA star.

Every year, new faces earn more playing time, garner better stats, and ultimately be instrumental in their team’s number of wins.

Every year, a young player out there worked on his fundamentals over the course of the offseason to become stronger, tougher, and be used more by the coach since he deserves it so.

Here on On The Rise, we document and share who may be a player to watch out for this season as they start to pan out for their respective teams. It’s time to give some ink to the young guns out there who diligently worked in the offseason and are now working their tails off to get their teams the coveted Ws.

These are the players who I think would make a mark given their preseason work and work rate so far, watching the games being played. They deserve this and it’s time to show Filipinos that the NBA is not just about the Kobes, the LeBrons, the Roses, the Durants, the Westbrooks, the Dwights and the Hardens. These guys may star in a season or two.

The young guns are on the rise.

This week, it’s the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Serbian muscle, Nikola Pekovic.

***

Nikola Pekovic’s star-turn came during the lockout-shortened season of the NBA.

Wait, that was last year!

For years since Kevin Garnett departed, there was no real big man down the middle for the Wolves. Even when Garnett was there, that was their big gaping hole. Michael Olowokandi, may the gods bless his basketball skills, was actually their best center to date. The rest? Stop-gaps at best.

Even Kevin Love, for all his remarkable remarkable skills rebounding that rock, is not a center. What did David Khan do? Why he signed up the next best bust to Kwame Brown, Darko Millicic, Larry Brown’s former human victory cigar. Millicic was actually uhm, dependable, so to speak. But that was until Pekovic decided to take what was rightfully his and own the slot.

Drafted 31st in the 2008 NBA Draft, Pekovic took some time before getting over the ocean and to the NBA’s doorstep. It’s kind of surprising that the Wolves were willing to wait for someone who they desperately needed. But it was mainly because of Pekovic’s huge contract in Europe and the Wolves weren’t willing to buy it out, yet.

He was a star in Europe, mind you. He was an All-Euroleague First Teamer, outmuscling hapless centers with his 6’11”, 290-pound muscled frame. He was a champion too, winning the league title with Greek power Panathanaikos back in 2008. That is surely one thing he can bring to this young Wolves team: winning.

He played 65 out of 82 games and started 11 of those in his inaugural season in the NBA back in 2010. He wasn’t spectacular but he wasn’t shabby either in his burn time. In 13 minutes he was allocated every night, the burly Serbian put up 5.5 points a night to go with 3 rebounds and half a block while sinking half of his field goal attempts in the process. It wasn’t something but it’s better than nothing when Millicic needs a breather or is just playing downright awful.

But no one could’ve imagined what was to come last season.

Not even me, for all the Linsane things that happened.

Pekomania was on in cold Minnesota. And it raged until Darko Millicic was reduced to a mere game spectator and fans breathing some sort of relief that they now have an inside muscle to pair up with Kevin Love.

He played 47 games last season, eventually starting out 35. Want to know his numbers? It was a solid 13.9 points a night spiked by a healthy dose of 7.4 rebounds while making 56 percent of his field goals. He was a shoo-in for Most Improved Player but we all know who that award went to. But who cares? Target Center found a rock to be built on, and fans could only get more and more excited for the seasons to come.

And now, with the Wolves short-handed up front due to Kevin Love’s injury making him wear suits instead of his jersey for a good two months, Pekovic has been beasting it out as of late. Along with his new pair of Russian teammates, Andrei Kirilenko, the guy we know as Jerry Sloan’s hunting gun, and rookie Alexey Shved, they have brought winning back to the cold climes of Minnesota. It’s just no longer Vikings land out there.

The Timberwolves are howling even without Ricky Rubio, Love and Roy.

And they have a hulking, tattooed Serbian Wolf leading the pack.

Follow @PioStark for more NBA stuff, general basketball matters and sports commentaries.

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