Ranking Nikola Pekovic Among the Best Minnesota Timberwolves Centers of All Time
It’s been a while since the Minnesota Timberwolves have seen a center play on the same level as Nikola Pekovic.
His offensive mentality and bruising style under the basket are a big part of what makes him so great, but his unselfish behavior and chemistry with the rest of the team really is what establishes him as the dominant center that we see.
Of course, he has his flaws. He has shown improvement, but Pekovic is still somewhat weak on the defensive side of the floor—although that’s not to say that he doesn’t command a presence under the basket.
What is most remarkable about Pekovic is that he remains productive despite not having a great outside game. He’s been averaging 14.2 points per game (PPG), and he’s been doing all of his damage inside the paint.
He’s been shooting 56 percent in the restricted area, 37 percent in the paint and 17 percent from mid-range. (Stats courtesy of NBA.com)
While those numbers go to show that he could stand to improve his outside game, his 14.2 PPG prove that his offensive game isn’t crippled by his lack of a jump shot.
In fact, Pekovic’s style of play is defined by his brutish mentality under the rim. His strength and surprising quickness keep opposing defenses on their heels, and he makes them pay for any weakness with his strength in moving to the basket.
Before recent years, the Timberwolves hadn't had a ton of luck with finding quality centers. I’m going to compare Pekovic to some of the best big men in Minnesota history and see just how well he stacks up.
During his time with the 'Wolves, Sean Rooks averaged a healthy 9.3 RPG and 5.3 RPG. Not terrible stats, but he only stuck around in Minnesota for two seasons.
Compared to Nikola Pekovic, however, Rooks doesn’t quite match up. Despite providing a solid option at center, Rooks spent most of his career bouncing from team to team and moving in and out of starting lineups.
In his time with Minnesota, Andrew Lang averaged 8.8 PPG and 6.1 RPG. He was never viewed as a legit scoring threat, but he excelled as a defensive-minded shot-blocker.
Andrew Lang was a solid defensive player and wasn’t terrible with the 'Wolves, but Nikola Pekovic is easily the better player. Lang didn't have much of an offensive game and didn’t pose the same rebounding or physical threat that Pekovic presents.
Like most of the other centers on this list, Mark Blount didn’t spend a ton of time in Minnesota. In his two seasons with the team, he averaged 5.8 PPG and 4.5 RPG. Extremely mediocre stats, and it didn’t help that he had poor defense and tended to turn the ball over.
Pekovic easily wins this comparison, in pretty much every way. Blount had a better jump shot, but Pekovic is still young.
5. Dean Garrett
After being drafted by the Phoenix Suns in 1988, Dean Garrett opted to play in Europe instead, where he played for eight years. He finally came to the NBA in 1996, when he was acquired as a free agent by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
In his first season with the NBA, he was actually fairly impressive. In just the 24 MPG that he played, he averaged eight PPG and 7.3 RPG. He also shot at a very effective 57 percent.
He moved on the Denver Nuggets in the following season, where he began his decline. He came back to Minnesota after the one season in Denver, and stayed for three seasons. He went to the Golden State Warriors in 2001, but was traded back to the Timberwolves after just five games.
Garrett was a solid post player before his age caught up to him, but he had his flaws. His offensive game was lacking, and he struggled rebounding the ball. His defense was decent enough, but nothing special.
Dean Garrett was a player that could have been good, but was past his prime by the time he played for the Wolves.
4. Randy Breuer
He wasn’t spectacular, or even remembered by most fans, but Randy Breuer in his prime was one of the best centers in Timberwolves history.
After spending six-and-a-half seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks, Breuer was traded to the Timberwolves. He wasn’t awful, even going so far as to score 40 points in a single game. In his first season with the 'Wolves, Breuer averaged 10.2 PPG and 5.7 RPG.
His stats dropped off from that point on though. In his four seasons in Minnesota, Breuer averaged just 7.6 PPG and 4.9 RPG.
On the other side of the ball, he was a great shot blocker at 7’3” and established himself as a solid defensive player.
Due to his offensive advantage and dominant rebounding, Pek wins the comparison.
3. Rasho Nesterovic
Rasho Nesterovic is one of the best centers in Timberwolves history, which says a lot about the quality of the centers that the 'Wolves have gone through.
In the four seasons that he spent in Minnesota, he managed to average just 7.5 PPG and 5.4 RPG. Those aren’t great numbers, but his stats progressively became slightly better as he gained experience in the NBA.
In his final season with the 'Wolves, Nesterovic played at the highest level of his career, scoring 11.2 PPG and grabbing 6.5 RPG.
Despite not having a great offensive game, he did bring a defensive presence to Minnesota. Coupled with the defensive prowess of Kevin Garnett, the Timberwolves' frontcourt was very solid defensively.
Compared to Nesterovic, Pekovic’s stats are better. Regardless of not having an outside game, Pek is still putting up 14.2 PPG. He's not on the same defensive level that Nesterovic was on, but he's no slouch on defense, either.
2. Nikola Pekovic
In just the three seasons that we’ve seen of Nikola Pekovic, he’s shown enough to make Timberwolves fans believe that he can be one of the greats.
Coming out of the Euro League as a highly anticipated prospect, Pekovic followed up his quiet rookie campaign with bruising offense and physical rebounding, enough to take some of the pressure off of Kevin Love.
His work ethic is unquestioned, which is shown by the upwards trend in his stats. In his rookie season, Pekovic averaged 5.5 points and three rebounds in just 13.6 MPG. Last year he earned the starting position, and pulled his stats up to 13.9 MPG in 27 minutes.
Through his first two seasons in the NBA, it has become clear why he was so good in Europe. His offense may be one-dimensional, but it hasn’t failed him yet. His game is still expanding, he’s only been with the NBA for two full seasons.
If he continues his upwards rise, Nikola Pekovic will be primed to take the helm as the best center in Timberwolves history.
1. Al Jefferson
Al Jefferson is undoubtedly the best center in the history of the Timberwolves. Although he is technically a power forward, Jefferson was asked to play center in Minnesota, and he thrived in that role.
Through 2007-10, Jefferson was the leading big man for the 'Wolves. In that time he averaged 20.4 PPG and 10.5 rebounds per game (RPG). His defensive game isn’t exactly elite, but it wasn’t a weakness for him either.
Comparing Jefferson’s stats to Pekovic’s, it’s clear that Jefferson has the edge. His PPG is higher, and so are his percentages from the field. He has the more polished offensive arsenal, and presents the dual threat of being both a solid weapon under the basket as well as a consistent scorer from the field.
Pekovic could become better than Jefferson in time, but it would require developing some sort of outside game. His 74 percent free-throw shooting makes the case that he has a jump shot, he just needs to utilize it.