Thirty players were selected before him. His professional career started back in 2003. Born in a country full of obstacles, Nikola Pekovic is a fighter.
When the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted the 6'11" center from Montenegro, they had probably planned on a solid reserve player. In his first season, that's exactly what he looked like.
What a difference a year (and a Ricky Rubio) makes.
Pekovic has been a monster down low for the Wolves. At a time when they needed a secondary scorer most, Pekovic stepped up. Not the most talented player out there, and certainly not the most intimidating, Pekovic has made quick work of teams that have overlooked him this year.
A career stat line of seven points and four rebounds, Pekovic has been far from making a real difference in this league. This season, he has been a go-to scorer under the basket. A big difference for Pekovic is the addition of point guard Ricky Rubio. Rubio draws so much attention when he is driving to and around the basket, often times that leaves Pekovic open—well, open when Rubio is the passer.
Nikola has the characteristics and skill set of a typical Eastern-European big man. He has exceptional footwork, is a decent passer and will rebound around the basket with ferocity. His ability to finish under the rim has given the Wolves the boost they needed to become a .500 team so far this season.
Kevin Love is having his best season as a pro, but when he is being doubled, the Wolves need that rebounding and scoring presence Pekovic has provided this year.
As of late, Pekovic has been red-hot averaging 18.3 points and 10.5 rebounds in the month of February. With the Wolves beating the Philadelphia 76ers last night, the team has now won three in a row. Pekovic recorded a career-high 30 points and 12 rebounds against Houston earlier this month.
With Rubio throwing him passes, and Love getting most of the defensive attention, Pekovic could turn into a double-double machine, and establish himself as a dominant center in a Western Conference suddenly starved for productive big men.
One thing is certain: If the Wolves are seriously eyeing the playoffs this year, Pekovic will have to continue to outplay his expectations.