A closer look at the Wolves' international players

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 1, 2012 - 11:53 PM

NIKOLA PEKOVIC

Age: 26 Height/position: 6-11/center

Birthplace: Bijelo Polje, Montenegro

How obtained: Drafted 31st overall pick (first pick of second round) by Wolves in 2008

International: Regularly competes with the Serbian national team and helped Serbia/Montenegro win a gold medal at the 2006 European U 20 Championships. In his final European season in 2009-10, he led the Greek league with a 72.5 percent field-goal shooting percentage, averaging 12.2 points. He played on a Serbian professional team with former NBA star Vlade Divac, whom he lists as his favorite player.

NBA: Pekovic played two seasons in Europe after being drafted by the Wolves in 2008. After averaging 5.5 points and 3.0 rebounds in 13.7 minutes in his first NBA season, he had a breakthrough year in 2011-12, averaging 13.9 points and 7.4 rebounds. Needs to show he can stay healthy; missed 13 games because of a sprained ankle as a rookie and 12 games because of injuries last season.

Did you know? He's an avid fisherman and soccer fan.

J.J. BAREA

Age: 28 Height/position: 6-foot/guard

Birthplace: Mayaguez, Puerto Rico

How obtained: Signed as free agent Dec. 14, 2011

International: Has played for several Puerto Rico teams in FIBA international tournaments, most recently in the 2010 World Championships, where he averaged a team-high 16.5 points and 5.4 assists. Barea played collegiately at Northeastern, where he averaged 21.0 points and 8.4 assists as a senior. After college he went undrafted, signing with the Dallas Mavericks as a free agent.

NBA experience: Played five seasons with the Mavericks, helping the team win an NBA title in 2010-11. Barea was a key contributor on that team, playing in 81 regular-season games and averaging 9.5 points and 3.9 assists. The Mavericks reached the playoffs in all five of his seasons with the team. He averaged a career-high 11.3 points with the Timberwolves a year ago, but was bothered by a variety of injuries and played in only 41 games. He's a career 35.8 percent three-point shooter (257 of 718) in his six NBA seasons.

Did you know? His longtime companion is 2006 Miss Universe Zuleyko Rivera.

ANDREI KIRILENKO

Age: 31 Height/position: 6-9/forward

Birthplace: Izhevsk (Siberia), Russia

How obtained: Signed as free agent July 27, 2012

International: Began his career at age 15, making him the youngest ever to play in the Russian league. Has been a star on the international scene since, playing in the 2000, 2008 and 2012 Olympics. He was the 24th pick in the first round of the 1999 NBA draft, making him the first Russian to be picked in the opening round, and at the time the highest pick ever for a European player. He carried the Russian flag for the opening ceremonies at the 2008 Olympics, and helped Russia to a bronze medal at the 2012 Games, averaging 17.5 points and 7.5 rebounds.

NBA experience: Played 10 seasons with Utah before returning to Russia last season because of the NBA lockout that shortened the season. He was an NBA All-Star in 2004 and is regarded as one of the top defensive players of the past decade. He has a 12.4-point career scoring average while shooting 47 percent from the field. But injuries have been a concern. He has played more than 70 games once in his past seven NBA seasons.

Did you know? His wife, Marina (Masha) Lopatova, is a Russian pop star who has had a No. 1 hit.

RICKY RUBIO

Age: 22 Height/position: 6-4/guard

Birthplace: El Masnou, Spain

How obtained: Drafted 5th overall by Wolves in 2009

International: A basketball prodigy, he played in Spain's top pro league at age 14, and broke onto the world scene in 2005 with Spain's Under-16 team that won a bronze medal at the European Championships. Spain got the U-16 gold medal a year later, with Rubio named MVP for averaging 22.3 points, 12.8 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 6.5 steals. He played on Spain's 2008 Olympic team, where at age 17 he became the youngest player ever to participate in a gold medal game.

NBA: He was named first team All-Rookie and finished second to Cleveland's Kyrie Irving in Rookie of the Year voting last season despite missing the final 25 games because of an injury to his left knee that required reconstructive surgery. The Wolves were 18-13 in games he started, 5-20 after his injury. He was a superb playmaker, averaging 8.2 assists, and displayed better-than-expected scoring instincts with a 10.6-point average.

Did you know? Rubio's older brother, Marc, plays professional basketball in Spain's second division.

ALEXEY SHVED

Age: 23 Height/position: 6-6/guard

Birthplace: Belgorod, Russia

How obtained: Signed as free agent July 25, 2012

International: Has played on Russian national teams since 2006, the year he averaged 17.3 points and 6.2 assists for the CSKA Moscow junior team. He moved up to the top tier CSKA Moscow team in 2007-08, and helped the team to four league titles in the past five years. Shved played last season with new Wolves teammate Andrei Kirilenko for CSKA and the Russian Olympic team.

NBA: He has yet to play a regular-season game, but the optimistic view is that he proved himself on the big stage at the 2012 Olympics, where he helped Russia to the bronze medal, averaging 11.4 points and 5.9 assists. He scored 25 points in the bronze game, going 6-for-11 from three-point range. He declared himself eligible for the 2010 NBA draft but was not selected.

Did you know? He loves cats and has a Bengal named Chica.

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