Breaking Down Nikola Pekovic's All-Star Chances

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Breaking Down Nikola Pekovic's All-Star Chances
Hannah Foslien/Associated Press

You'd think that throwing up a near double-double on a nightly basis would make you an All-Star, but Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic may be proving otherwise.

Pekovic has had a wonderful year, averaging 18.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game in his fourth NBA season. But the Pekovic argument has its issues when it comes to making his All-Star case. And unfortunately for Pek, the main problem, the depth and strength of the West, is completely out of his control.

In reality, Pekovic would struggle to make his way onto any 12-man Western Conference All-Star team, especially considering that he may not even be one of the 12 best frontcourt players in the West.

The West already has its Kevin Durant-Kevin Love-Blake Griffin starting frontcourt, a deserving one at that. So that leaves some room on the bench. 

The coaches vote for the reserves, which TNT will announce Thursday night on Inside the NBA, has a relatively simple format: pick two guards, three frontcourt players and two wild cards.

That leaves enough room for someone to vote for up to five frontcourt guys, but that's it. You're done after that.

David Sherman/Getty Images

LaMarcus Aldridge has been a top-10 MVP candidate this season and is a lock to make it to New Orleans. Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, who are both averaging better than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game in their early 20s, should be locks as well. Maybe Davis won't make it because of some form of age bias, but the NBA's leader in blocks has to represent New Orleans—in New Orleans.

So those are your three required frontcourt reserves right there. And really, Pek isn't as talented or productive as those three aforementioned players—at all.

Now, we get to the two wild-card spots. Those roster slots would be Pek's last chance to make the team, but remember, at this point, he'd be competing against the entire Western Conference, not just the conference's frontcourt players.

For the sake of argument, though, let's stay in the frontcourt, because in actuality, there are too many more bigs to list before Pekovic would get to hear his name called.

But a quick disclaimer before we move on: Nikola Pekovic is a very good player. A very, very good player. But we're talking about the All-Star Game, not the All-Very-Good-Player Game. 

The strength of the Western Conference makes it too hard for Pek to move up the list. Just look at all the players we haven't even gotten to, yet.

Dirk Nowitzki won't post his second career 180-shooting season (meaning 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the line), but he will come far closer to doing so than any 35-year-old ever should. He's still dominant offensively; not just good, but dominant. 

Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

Serge Ibaka has become one of the best overall defenders in the NBA, has improved his passing, is one of the best spot-up shooting power forwards in the league and is helping Kevin Durant carry the Oklahoma City Thunder to the best record in the Western Conference. 

That's five frontcourt players who could be All-Star reserves. But we're not done. Not even close. Sorry, Pek.

We still haven't gotten to Dwight Howard, who has somehow become underrated after taking so much criticism for his one year in L.A. No, Howard isn't as dominant as he was when he took the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009, but he's still a walking double-double, a capable post scorer and one of the 10 best defensive players in the NBA. 

We're ignoring proven champions like Tim Duncan and Pau Gasol, who are still going strong even in their mid- or late-30s. Then there's Zach Randolph. There's DeAndre Jordan, who leads the NBA in rebounding, is fourth in blocks per game and has transformed into one of the higher-impact defensive centers in the league.

Even if the entire Western Conference All-Star team were made up of only frontcourt players, Pek may not stand a shot to make the roster. Ultimately, though, that blame doesn't fall on Pekovic.

Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

In some ways, this has sounded too harsh, but listing off the names of players who are better than Pekovic shouldn't take away from all the good that the Timberwolves center provides his team. Pek is still a rebounder, a post scorer and a general bully around the hoop. His spot on this list says plenty more about the strength of the West than it does about Pekovic himself.

Let's enter fantasy world for a second and pretend some Eastern Conference team just cut a deal to bring Pekovic into town without actually giving up a center for him. So Pekovic is now an Eastern Conference center—and that means his All-Star outlook seems so much more realistic. 

The East already has LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George as its starting frontcourt. So, like with the West, that means there are three to five more spots on the roster available for frontcourt players.

Roy Hibbert and his verticality absolutely deserve to be there. So do Chris Bosh and his new three-point shooting ways. Paul Millsap has carried an Atlanta Hawks team that will miss Al Horford, its best player, for the rest of the season.

So then, it would all come down to those two wild-card spots. And a reasonable person could argue that a center who is less than two points and one rebound away from a 20-points-per-game, 10-rebounds-per-game season could be on that All-Star team.

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But Pekovic doesn't play in the East. And in real life, it would be hard for that same reasonable person to argue he should be playing in New Orleans on Feb. 16.

In his age-28 season, Pekovic is likely in or near his prime. He pulls down offensive boards as well as anyone else in the NBA, and he has a low-post repertoire that he can use to score whenever he wants. When he rolls over his shoulder to throw up a baseline hook, it's one of the prettier post moves in the whole league. But he still has his flaws. 

There are better defensive players out there. There are better passers, better creators. The term "playmaker" doesn't accurately fit the more stationary Pekovic.

So for now, Nikola Pekovic needs to be happy with just being a candidate for the All-Very-Good-Player Team. And really, there should be nothing wrong with that.

 

Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36 minutes numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com or on ESPN’s TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

*All statistics current as of Jan. 27.

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