Should Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic get an All-Star nod?
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Kevin Love is undoubtedly putting up All-Star caliber numbers this season.
But Love isn't the only one on the Minnesota Timberwolves who is making a case for a spot on the Western Conference roster.
Nikola Pekovic has emerged as one of the premier centers in the NBA. In his fourth year stateside and armed with a fresh big money contract, Pekovic is already validating the gamble the Wolves took on him, tormenting opposing interior defenses along the way.
Carrying averages of 18.3 points and 9.2 rebounds through 37 games, the 6-foot-11, 285-pound center is on track to set career-highs in both categories. After gradually finding his footing in the first quarter of the season, Pekovic's production has started to surge upward in the last month, posting 22.9 points (55.3% from the floor) to go with 10.25 rebounds in his last 12 games.
"He's a monster," Love said. "He's very tough to handle in this league ... He's the strongest player in the league, in my opinion. It's not even close. He just gets in there and shoots a very high percentage and rebounds at a high level."
Among the NBA's starting centers, Pekovic ranks second in total points (676, 18.3 ppg) behind only Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins (824, 23.5 ppg) -- Pekovic and the Wolves' opponent on Wednesday night.
Does Pekovic deserve to be in the All-Star discussion? Yes, but getting a roster spot is another matter, especially under the NBA's newly revamped All-Star format.
Prior to 2013, there was a specific spot on the ballot for centers. But with the line between forwards and centers in the NBA blurring, the ballot was adjusted into two categories: frontcourt and backcourt.
The new rules and a glut of high-end frontcourt talent stockpiled in the Western Conference makes earning an All-Star nod all the more difficult for guys like Pekovic and Cousins.
"There's no question right now that if they had not changed the rules on the All-Star game that he would be an All-Star," Wolves director of player operations Flip Saunders said. "So our job now is to push, because I think he's deserving of being an All-Star."
As of Jan. 9, in the NBA's latest voting update, Cousins ranked 11th on the fan ballot (148,604) among Western Conference frontcourt players, while Pekovic hadn't cracked the top-15. The only way for either Pekovic or Cousins to get a spot on the 12-man All-Star roster would be to get selected by coaches.
Wolves coach Rick Adelman has been loaded with praise for Pekovic's development into one of the league's top big men, but he also cautions that it may take at least another year before he begins to get All-Star recognition.
"The way they've changed it, there's so many forwards in the West, I think it's going to be hard," Adelman said. "You've got to face facts too, we're right around .500 and there's teams that have had great runs. I think that takes care of its self after you've had a couple of years. Usually the coaches want to see you for a couple of years before they vote for them. I don't know if that's right or if that's wrong."
Even Pekovic himself is quick to downplay any All-Star talk. To him, the honor should first go to Cousins.
"I know he deserves it," Pekovic said. "I'm not really sure about me. I think I'm still not playing at that high level."
If Pekovic doesn't think he's playing at a high enough level now, the results could be staggering if or when he reaches that point.
All-Star voting concludes on Jan. 20, with the starters to be announced Jan. 23. The reserves will be unveiled Jan. 30. The All-Star game is set for Feb. 16 in New Orleans.