Wolves center Nikola Pekovic staying patient amid slow start to season
MINNEAPOLIS -- Nikola Pekovic's frustration isn't obvious, subdued by a distinct resolve that a five-game sample size in no way foretells what is to come this season for the Timberwolves big man.
When Pekovic speaks, it is always with an obvious air of confidence and determination, usually mixed with a certain lightheartedness.
However, although not prominent, there is still a layer of aggravation hovering over Pekovic in the second week of the season, and one can't blame him for it.
Cemented into the Wolves' long-term plans in the offseason with a five-year, $60-million deal, Pekovic is struggling early on to match the imposing performance that garnered him a big money contract in the first place.
A simple glance at just his scoring and rebounding output doesn't elicit concern, with an 11-point, 9.6-rebound average. But the 6-foot-11, 285-pound Montenegrin center has been lost a bit in the frenzy of the low post.
His shooting percentage is down to 38.9 percent, deflated by a 7-of-23 (30%) scoring mark in the Wolves' losses to Cleveland and Golden Sate. Turnovers -- he has 13 of them -- have also slowed him down from establishing himself inside.
Pekovic has maintained perspective though, using whatever frustration he has as motivation to rediscover his top form.
"Of course, you're gonna be frustrated," Pekovic said following practice Thursday, on the eve of Minnesota's home match-up with Dallas. "When you stop being frustrated, when you stop thinking about that, that's the point when you realize that you don't care. I think when you're frustrated, until some point, I think that's good for a player."
Void of Kevin Love last season, the Wolves required heavy duty help filling their inside scoring needs. Pekovic rumbled to the forefront, and in a contract year no less. In his third NBA season, Pekovic led Minnesota in points (16.3) and rebounds (8.8) in 62 games.
Now, with Love back to his healthy, All-Star caliber form, guard Ricky Rubio hoping to log a full season and sleek shooting Kevin Martin added to the mix, Pekovic's identity in the Wolves' starting lineup has required some adjusting. He admits it has has taken some time to establish chemistry with his equally offensively dynamic teammates.
Coach Rick Adelman has bemoaned several issues early on that have derailed the Wolves in their two losses. Pekovic is not one of his concerns. Adelman points to stagnate ball movement and an overall lack of offensive patience by the Wolves as contributing factors to lessening the 27-year-old center's impact.
But Pekovic could benefit from slowing down on offense, Adelman suggested.
"I thought we could have got him the ball a number of times (against Golden State) and we didn't do it," Adelman said. "We went to something else. He's got to work at it, and get position, and he has to have a little patience."
Pekovic may not have rediscovered his game-changing inside scoring presence yet, but Love credits some of his torrid start and the openings created for the rest of the lineup to the off-the-ball work the big man has done in the paint.
"He clears out a lot of space in there," Love said. "He might not realize it some times how much helps all of us out, whether it's Corey (Brewer) or any of our guards barreling down the lane, he's just taking up one or two guys in there."
Following the loss to the Warriors, which Adelman remarked reminded him of the first weeks of training camp, the Wolves got a needed day to regroup and figure out how to stop the obvious execution breakdowns that have sprouted up. One of the points of emphasis in practice and film sessions: Find ways to get Pekovic the ball.
That starts Friday against the Mavericks.
Partly from those discussions, it's easy to see why Pekovic has kept a level outlook, free of any overt frustration.
"It will come all together," he said. "I know that everybody is doing everything in their power to make my life easier and I'm doing everything to make their life easier."