Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic is a terror for opposing bigs.
He's not someone you'd like to encounter on the offensive low block. Or in a dark alleyway.
He looks like a supervillain, with muscles on top of muscles packed onto his 6'11", 290-pound frame. He never shies away from contact, and seeks it out even, yet he's surprisingly comfortable punishing with poise and finesse.
Oh, and he also pretends like he's a baby when he's working out. That's a terrifying idea for people of any size and shape—workout babies included.
Yet, somehow this story isn't as scary as it sounds. Unbelievably strange for sure, but actually based in logic and reason, as Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune explained:
Three times a week, [Pekovic is] in the Target Center basement weight room down on his stomach or elbows or all fours, making small, measured movements intended to replicate how an infant learns to crawl, roll, sit and eventually walk.
The tattooed, self-declared “real man” whom opponents call probably the NBA’s strongest also will deliver, if the mood strikes him, sound effects along with the delicate motions designed to strengthen and stabilize his smaller muscles after he has spent a lifetime pumping the biggest ones.
“Waaaaaaa,” he says, contorting his face and mimicking a baby’s cry.
There is a purpose for all of this, and it's not trying to create the best viral NBA video this side of the Harlem-shaking Miami Heat.
These exercise methods, which Zgoda said includes everything from "baby reaches" to "bear walks," are the work of Minnesota's new director of sports performance, Koichi Sato. Sato has a two-tiered workout plan that involves balancing the strength-building major muscle groups—which Pekovic clearly has spent time on—with the smaller muscles that help balance the bigger ones.
All of this is designed to prevent minor injuries and limit the inevitable wear and tear that NBA players take. Apparently, it's working. Pekovic, who missed 52 games over the last three seasons, has played in each of Minnesota's first 42 games.
The big man's buying into the madness, even if it puts him in some peculiar weight room positions, as Zgoda described:
A man who once only pumped more and more iron, Pekovic now walks with a block atop his head on a beam placed on the weight-room floor, not all that unlike a beauty-show contestant from days gone by who balanced a book on her head to improve posture...
Pekovic himself impersonates a baby, a bear and a beauty queen in the weight room without hearing so much as a snicker from a teammate.
No one's snickering at the results. Not only is he staying on the floor longer, he's doing more with his floor time. His scoring (18.3 points), rebounding (9.3) and efficiency (20.7 player efficiency rating) are all checking in at career rates.
Still, as good as the ends have been, the means are the best part of this story.
"I’m just more enamored by the idea of Nikola Pekovic rolling around on the ground and acting like an infant as a way to get better at basketball," The Starters' Trey Kerby wrote. "Then you throw in the fact that he’ll even throw in some pageant contestant moves and it’s even more incredible."
Never a dull moment, folks. Not in this league.