Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic fairly bristles if you suggest that, even with all those muscles and menacing tattoos, he’s really just cute and cuddly underneath.
Never mind that he has been known to wrap the team’s equipment guy in a big, lovable, locker-room hug or that he playfully agreed to draw a teddy-bear tattoo on a fan’s forearm for a ticket-sales commercial.
“No, I’m not,” he says, frowning in protest.
But Wolves coach Rick Adelman wants to see Pekovic add some finesse to his game, a suggestion that seems to go against everything for which the big guy stands.
Adelman believes Pekovic needs to do so — whether he returns to the Wolves next season after this summer’s restricted free agency or not — both to succeed against longer, more athletic players and to ease the demands on a body now susceptible to all kinds of nagging injuries.
“Finesse was never my better side,” said Pekovic, who has missed 18 games this season and hasn’t played the past two games because of a bruised calf. “All my basketball life, like I like to say, my basketball is not really nice for watching, but it is really effective.”
Adelman said he believes Pekovic will be that much more effective if he develops counters to the power moves he relies upon close to the basket, and if he learns to expand his game beyond 2 or 3 feet.
“He plays the game a certain way, and that’s the way he has always played it,” Adelman said. “But as he plays against different people, he’s got to find a way to score against length. Right now, he struggles with that at times, especially when we don’t shoot the ball well. When we don’t shoot the ball, there are three guys collapsing on him when he gets the ball.
“He has to find a way to elevate his game there. All good players, as they move up in this league, they do that. Every year they find something different, and he has to do that.”
And that comes during summers, not during the season when there is relatively little time between games, travel, practices, shootarounds and rest days to work on such things.
That will come this summer with work on his own at home in Montenegro and with Wolves assistant coaches, if he indeed re-signs with the team.
“Knock on wood,” Wolves assistant coach Jack Sikma said.
Sikma believes Pekovic will get more foul calls and fewer shots blocked if he moves his game just a bit beyond the basket, where all the pushing and shoving obscures officials’ vision.
“Pek’s the Army, he’s never going to be the Air Force,” Sikma said. “It’s always going to be trench warfare for him. You’ve still got to use your head a little more. Pek has established his ‘A’ game, but he has to establish a ‘B’ and ‘C’ that he can go to, and it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take some time in the gym and it has to be something that Pek buys in to.
“Pek’s strength is going to his strength, so now he’s going to be trying some other things that maybe he’s not comfortable with. You don’t want to change his mindset, but definitely some time has to be spent expanding that game.”
Pekovic said he will to learn and grow, even if he has played basically one way since he first started playing at age 15.
“My first coach was really good at recognizing what you’re good at and he see that I’m good at playing really simple game, close to the basket,” Pekovic said. “They can teach you to play one way, but if you don’t find yourself in that way … you realize that’s your game. This is the way I’ve always played.
“Basically I’m trying all my life do things I’m good at, but sometimes maybe you need to expand a bit, so I’ll try to do that. Finesse, I know that’s something I need to work on.”