Aside from being professional basketball players who have competed for the Timberwolves, Andrew Wiggins and Nikola Pekovic do not appear to have many similarities.
Wiggins is a fluid, athletic, dynamic dunking scorer whose in-air acrobatics are breathtaking.
Pekovic was a bruising big man. It’s hard to box out a brick wall, especially one that can make easy putbacks of the glass.
Where I fear there might be a similarity beyond just their shared time on the same court, though, is this: Both men were in the absolute right place at the right time when it came to signing lucrative contract extensions.
Pekovic got his money — five years, $60 million — in the summer of 2013 as the Wolves tried to convince Kevin Love that they were building a winner around Love, Pek and Ricky Rubio. They couldn’t afford to let Pekovic walk, even if there were legitimate injury concerns looming over his future.
He was the third part of a Big Three that never fully materialized. The Wolves of that 2013-14 season were as good as they have been in the last decade-plus, but they still only won 40 games and missed the playoffs. Pekovic played just 54 games that year and just 43 more thereafter before his Wolves days were done. Kevin Love, tired of the organization and of losing, forced his way out in the summer of 2014 in a trade that brought Wiggins to the Wolves.
Fast-forward three years, and here we are again. The Wolves have Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns looming as a giant 1-2 punch this season — admittedly far better than the Love-Rubio duo of three season ago, but stick with me. Wiggins is the third cog in the Big Three, a player the Wolves believe they need to keep and trust if they are going to do big things.
Wiggins’ upside is greater than Pekovic’s, and his durability — one game missed in three seasons — is a massive upgrade. But so, too, is the financial commitment the Wolves felt they needed to make to Wiggins: a five-year deal worth $148 million, announced Wednesday. He was there at the right place at the right time just like Pek, and Wiggins is getting close to $30 million a year as a result (instead of the $12 million for Pekovic).
Wiggins has improved his scoring each season with the Wolves, from 16.9 ppg as a rookie (when he was the NBA’s Rookie of the Year) to 20.7 ppg to 23.6 last year. His three-point shooting crept up to an acceptable 35.6 percent last year. Every other statistic was either basically unchanged for all three seasons or remained flat between Year 2 and Year 3.
The risk with Wiggins is more this: Will he become a star who makes players around him better, or is his ceiling as a good but not terribly efficient scorer?
The Wolves are paying him like a star — as much of a leap of faith as a nod to the leverage Wiggins had with the timing of all this. Like Pekovic, he was in prime position to cash in. This time, the stakes are even higher all the way across the board.