Pekovic is back under one condition: Fit

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 7, 2012 - 9:31 AM

Wolves center Nikola Pekovic spent his summer losing weight, the scale says, and gaining strength, his coach says.

hide

Wolves center Nikola Pekovic

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune file

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman ended each of his long training-camp practices in Mankato last week the same way: He lined up his dog-tired players on the baseline and summoned one after another to the free-throw line until somebody inevitably missed. Then he blew his whistle and they all ran sprints from one end of the court to the other and in between.

And often the first player up and back was not little Luke Ridnour or J.J. Barea but rather big, bad Nikola Pekovic, the 6-10 European center with the skulls and warrior tattooed on his arm.

"You just don't see that with big guys," Adelman said.

He does now, after Pekovic came back from summer a few pounds lighter and most noticeably leaner, down from 12-plus percent body fat to 8 percent.

"I feel good, I feel stronger and everything," he said. "Most important for me is I can run more. That's something I can do. If I can run more, I can stay longer in the game."

Staying in the game was an issue his rookie season two years ago, but not because of his conditioning. Big and bruising, he had trouble learning what NBA referees considered a foul, and NBA referees probably took their time learning about him.

Playing time also became an issue late in last year's breakthrough season because of bone spurs on his ankles that first pained and then sidelined him.

Now the bone spurs are gone, shaved off during a May surgery, and Pekovic is entering his third NBA season -- a contract season for him -- wiser and noticeably leaner after a second season in which he contended for the league's Most Improved Player award.

"I feel somehow different this season," Pekovic said. "You know players. You know the league now. You know how everything works. It gives me more confidence."

Getting his chance

In one breath, he calls himself different. In the next, he contends he's the same player he was as a rookie.

What has changed, apparently, is simply opportunity.

"It's just different when you spend some time on the court, when somebody gives you a chance," he said. "If you play 25, 30 minutes, you have some chance to show something. You got more chance to score, to do some good stuff. If you're like only one, two minutes in the game, there's no chance."

He believes his leaner look will allow him to run better with his teammates and to play more minutes.

That new look also has caused Wolves fans concern on Twitter, where a smattering of them worried that he now might have turned himself into something of a weakling.

Remember, the guy's got a bed of skulls tattooed on his upper arm.

"He's slimmed down, but he's stronger," Adelman said. "You just watch him. Guys in the scrimmages just want out of there. They don't want to go against him. He's going to be crucial for us. If we have a guy who has to be our Iron Man, it's Pek. When we have him out there, he's such a force around the basket. It makes everybody else better."

Adelman calls Pekovic at center and two-time All-Star Kevin Love at power forward the only givens in his starting lineup during a preseason schedule in which Adelman plans to experiment with different combinations at the other three positions.

It sounds like Love hopes that tag-team pairing applies during practice scrimmages, too.

"I try to team up with him, I want him on my team," Love said. "I'm assuming I'll be on the court with him a lot this year. It's good to be on his side."

Adelman praised Pekovic's passing, of all things, after Thursday's practice, saying the big guy is seeing plays unfold and making passes that he didn't see from Pekovic all last season.

Adelman also wants Pekovic to expand his offensive game, which apparently means shooting the ball from beyond 2 feet.

"He can really shoot the ball from 15, 16 feet, he just never looks for it," Adelman said. "I offer him the three-pointer every time I talk to him about it, and he has not accepted that yet."

Pekovic said he is open to all suggestions, except maybe that three-point thing.

"Not yet, that is too far," he said. "The coaching staff is just asking, they think I can take those 15- to 18-foot shots. I don't know, I never shot that shot. I'll try to take them this year."

Either way, he will get paid big after this season for his seemingly unstoppable low-post game and intimidating court presence, not his outside shot.

The first player taken in the 2008 draft's second round, Pekovic will become a restricted free agent next July at age 27 if the Wolves don't sign him to a contract extension before them.

And remember: Pekovic plays in a league where big men Brook Lopez and Roy Hibbert just got maximum-sized deals and Houston just paid a guy named Omer Asik more than $8 million a year.

His agent, by the way, is Jeff Schwartz, who negotiated Al Jefferson's $65 million deal with the Wolves in 2007 and Love's four-year, $61 million-plus extension last winter.

"Yeah, he has a history with Wolves, but I know nothing about it," Pekovic said. "I'm just here to do my job, that's all. I'm not really trying to think in that way. I'm just trying to establish myself here. That's what I'm trying. After I do that, the money will come. I'm not really thinking about it in this moment."

The Wolves' summertime personnel moves have put them right at the NBA's salary cap, but they can choose to exceed it and pay Pekovic as much as they want up to the maximum salary because he is already on their roster.

Pekovic said he wants to stay in Minnesota.

"I would like to stay here because of everything," he said. "I just like everything. I like the area. I like the team. I like all the stuff. Now I got some friends here. Now it's real easy. It's just nice, nice people, nice town. I would like to be here."

  • related content

  • Love working his way into form

    Saturday October 6, 2012

    Coach Rick Adelman had said his star wasn't in shape, but Saturday he called it a mental matter.

  • Chart: A closer look at Nikola Pekovic

    Saturday October 6, 2012

    6-11 • 280 pounds • center

  • Nikola Pekovic grabbed for a wild ball during Minnesota Timberwolves p...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

St. Louis - LP: A. Wainwright 1 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: J. Locke 3
Texas - WP: C. Lewis 12 FINAL
Seattle - LP: E. Ramirez 4
Washington - LP: D. Fister 4 FINAL
Philadelphia - WP: K. Kendrick 8
Tampa Bay - WP: D. Smyly 3 FINAL
Baltimore - LP: K. Gausman 1
Boston - LP: T. Layne 2 FINAL
Toronto - WP: M. Stroman 5
NY Yankees - WP: S. Greene 8 FINAL
Detroit - LP: D. Price 4
Atlanta - WP: J. Teheran 3 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: Z. Wheeler 2
Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Turner 5 FINAL
Cincinnati - WP: M. Latos 7
Cleveland 2 Bottom 8th Inning
Chicago WSox 3
Minnesota - LP: P. Hughes 1 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: W. Davis 6
Oakland 2 Bottom 7th Inning
Houston 2
Milwaukee 0 Top 6th Inning
San Diego 0
Los Angeles 3 Bottom 4th Inning
Arizona 0
Miami 1 Bottom 3rd Inning
LA Angels 0
Colorado 0 Top 3rd Inning
San Francisco 0
Atlanta 8/28/14 5:00 PM
Jacksonville
Detroit 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Indianapolis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Kansas City 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Green Bay
NY Jets 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
St. Louis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Miami
Carolina 8/28/14 6:30 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 8/28/14 6:30 PM
NY Giants
Washington 8/28/14 6:30 PM
Tampa Bay
Baltimore 8/28/14 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Cleveland
Denver 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Dallas
Minnesota 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Tennessee
San Francisco 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 8/28/14 9:00 PM
San Diego
Seattle 8/28/14 9:00 PM
Oakland
(21) Texas A&M 8/28/14 5:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Wake Forest 8/28/14 6:02 PM
ULM
Boise State 8/28/14 7:00 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Tulane 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Temple 8/28/14 8:15 PM
Vanderbilt
Rutgers 8/28/14 9:00 PM
Washington St
Weber State 8/28/14 9:30 PM
(19) Arizona State
BYU 8/29/14 6:00 PM
Connecticut
(6) Jacksonville St 8/29/14 6:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Bowling Green 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Western Ky
TX-San Antonio 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Houston
Colorado State 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Colorado
UNLV 8/29/14 9:30 PM
Arizona
Penn State 8/30/14 7:30 AM
UCF
Troy 8/30/14 11:00 AM
UAB
(7) UCLA 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Virginia
Western Mich 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
(5) Ohio State 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Navy
Appalachian St 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Michigan
Ga Southern 8/30/14 11:30 AM
NC State
Boston College 8/30/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
West Virginia 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(2) Alabama
Rice 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
(10) South Dakota St 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(24) Missouri
Fla Atlantic 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(22) Nebraska
California 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Marshall 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
UC Davis 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(11) Stanford
Arkansas 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(6) Auburn
(16) Clemson 8/30/14 4:30 PM
(12) Georgia
Liberty 8/30/14 5:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 8/30/14 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 8/30/14 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
Idaho 8/30/14 6:00 PM
Florida
Stephen F Austin 8/30/14 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 8/30/14 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 8/30/14 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 8/30/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Texas
(1) Florida State 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
(14) Wisconsin 8/30/14 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 8/30/14 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 8/30/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
D.C. 0 1st Half 33:00
Los Angeles 1
Ottawa 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Montreal
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How many games will the Timberwolves win this season?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close