Tag Archives: Nikola Pekovic

Your Mega-NBA Preview: Border Rivals Style

Before I get into the nuts and bolts, one quick thing on this week’s latest media-fueled blow-up.

The Star Tribune was certainly “tilting at windmills” in publishing the smear piece about the Pups’ front office’s master plan.

It is the year 2012. No, seriously. 2012. Someone should remind the editorial staff at the Star Tribune that, while racism certainly exists in this world, the idea that a for-profit business, like the Timberwolves, would purposefully sign white players to boost sales is beyond absurd. As a life long fan of Minnesota sports, I can tell you that we, the fans, do not care one iota about the color of a player’s skin. Remember, Kirby, The Kid, and Moss ran this town and were revered. Sure, it’s fluky that this year’s Pups squad has a higher percentage of white guys than an Augusta National board meeting. But, really?! It’s a master plan to put fans in the seats? Such a statement is even too preposterous for the 2013 PST.

Moving on, we have some hoops to preview. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Minnesota Timberwolves –

You cannot preview the Pups and not talk about the devastating injuries to Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. Not having Rubio and Love in the line-up is going to make the first month and a half a tough one to predict. The good news: the schedule sets up real nicely, with only @CHI and @BOS looming in November and the first part of December. No OKC. No Spurs. The bad news: this is the portion of the schedule where this young Pups team was supposed to get out to a strong start. With Rubio and Love, a 16-6 start was a real possibility. Now, 13-9 would probably be stealing.

From a personnel perspective, everyone is expecting Nikola Pekovic to make a jump. He has received probably the most buzz, both locally and nationally, to help carry the Pups. Before getting injured last year, Pekovic was putting up 20 and 10 on a regular basis. Because he will be relied on to produce more in Love’s absence, that 20 and 10 is critical to the Pups’ success. Unfortunately, I have to admit I am a little worried about whether or not he can do it without Love on the floor. Yes, he performed well when Love went down with an injury last spring. But last season was fluky because the lockout. I am not sure Pek has the skill set to be The Guy.

I think Pups fans should be more concerned with the play of newcomers Chase Budinger, Andrei Kirielinko, and Brandon Roy. Budinger averaged nearly 10 points a game last year and shot 45% from the floor while hitting at a better than 40% clip from downtown. His man-defense is brutal; but in Adelman’s system, he is smart enough to get to his spot. Kirilenko, on the other hand, is flat out wiley – no two ways about it. He plays great help defense. He can create his own shot (even if it is uglier than a Real Housewife of Any County/City sans make-up). He is an excellent passer (in the ’05-’06 season – he averaged more than 4 assists a game). And, he is bringing back Robin Gibb’s hairdo: here and here. Those two guys are both pretty safe in terms of what you are getting. The wild card is Roy.

As the floor general for the Blazers, Roy embarrassed the team that let him get away on an almost annual basis. Pups fans are hoping that he can rediscover that magic this season.

When the Pups drafted Roy in 2006 and then traded him immediately for Randy Foy (who graduated from the Troy Hudson school of shot taking), fans were confused. Yeah, Roy had knee problems (we will get back to this), but he was a dude. Over the next four years, he went out and proved it. Every time he eviscerated us with the Blazers, Pups fans got down about the one who got away. Well he is back.

Only a little more than a year removed from retirement, Roy is back to prove, yet again, that his knees are good enough for him to perform at a high level (thank you German steroi…errrrr…scientist guy) . And now, with Rubio and Love out to start the season, that unknown is the most critical question for the Pups. If the hoops Gods have any sense of poetic justice, Roy will average 15 and 6 in a veteran role, be available to take the shot in crunch time, and force defenses to loosen up a bit on Love. Without that kind of presence, the start of this season could be a rocky one for a young Pups squad.

Ultimately, the Pups success this season hinges on how well it can start without Rubio and Love. If the Pups have moderate success, they will push for the last playoff spot in a loaded Western Conference. Because we drink…okay…guzzle the Kool-Aid, we predict the Pups find a way to sneak in as an 8th seed and give the top-seeded OKC (yup, not buying the Lakers hype yet) everything it can handle in the first round, though, the series will be short (think OKC-Miami finals last year).

Milwaukee Bucks –

The Bucks enter the new season as the resident bridesmaid in the Eastern Conference, having finished 9th the last two seasons. To get back into the playoffs, the Bucks will have to rely upon newcomer, Monta Ellis, and Brandon Jennings to lead this team.

The Bucks will rely upon these dynamic scorers to reach the playoffs.

Calling Monta Ellis a volume shooter is like calling Sandy a thunderstorm. Ellis has never seen a shot he does not love. The Bucks 2012-2013 season is going to hinge on his co-existence with fellow volume shooter Brandon Jennings.

At the end of last season when Monta was moved from Golden State’s run and gun to Scotty Skiles’ more deliberate offensive scheme, there was definitely an adjustment period. Ellis showed flashes of his former self, but he was rarely the consistent scorer he was in Golden State. And there were times that he and Jennings almost seemed to clash in terms of who was running the show (for the record – Jennings should).

Coming into this season, more than anything else, Monta needs to find some balance with his scoring. When he scored 30 or more points last season, the Bucks were 3-6. When he had less than 20, the Bucks were 5-10. But, when he was taking a page from the 3 Little Bears, and he scored between 20 and 29, the Bucks were 9 -4. Talk about a dramatic difference.

From a bigs perspective, the Bucks are actually still fairly well-stocked, even after trading franchise center Andrew Bogut. Surprise standout Ersan Ilyasova showed real promise at the power forward position. Even if he regresses from the 45% he shot from deep last season, he is still in line to have another solid year.Veteran bigs Samuel Dalembert, Drew Gooden, and Joel Przybilla should provide the defensive presence that Skiles preaches. Even if it does mean that they use 16 of their allotted 18 fouls each game. Puppy bigs John Henson and Tobias Harris have both looked good in summer league and preseason games. Harris actually averaged nearly 21 points a game and earned the starting SF role. With that kind of promise — the kid definitely has skill— there is definite upside in this crew.

Landing a playoffs spot is a real possibility given the state of flux in the middling Eastern Conference. Ellis and Jennings will score, but the secondary talent will need to step up for this team to make the playoffs. Assuming the bigs bring the desired defensive presence and they spot the necessary points when needed, this team should find themselves in the playoffs. Though, like the Pups, a first round departure to a top seed is pretty likely.

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Wolves the next Thunder?

The next Thunder? Not quite.

ESPN Insider recently ran an article proclaiming the Wolves the next OKC Thunder based on far-reaching similarities: both teams drafted cornerstone players in the top of the draft (Durant and Love), both teams paired them with young point guards (Westbrook and Rubio), both hit on a non-lottery Intl. big man (Ibaka and Pekovic), and both have stockpiled draft picks to turn into different assets. At first glance, this article seems to have legs; but upon closer examination, this comparison is worse than ESPN’s forced efforts to compare Gronkowski’s twisted ankle to Curt Schilling’s ankle (Seriously ESPN, enough focusing in on this glorified frat boy with a bum wheel. Everyone knows he’s going to play. And, it’s not even close to the same thing as Schilling’s epic game 5.)

Undoubtedly, both teams have franchise players in Kevin Durant and Kevin Love. But, the difference between the two is stark. KD is probably the second best player in the league, and the two-time defending scoring champ. He scores at will, and can create his shot. K. Love is the Big Fundamental. He puts up impressive numbers, but he is not the elite score like KD and struggles at times creating his shot. His numbers have improved this season, but it’d be hard to deny the fact that Rubio’s presence has helped him get better looks. Now, I understand K. Love brings more to the table with his rebounding. But, the bottom line is they are completely different players. Its like saying the Packers and Vikes have similar franchise players in A-Rodg and AP.

Similarly, the article focuses on two complete opposites at point guard. Westbrook is a scoring point guard who uses his elite speed to get to the rack. Rubio might already be the best passer in the league (tell me the last time you recall seeing someone deliberately pass it between a defender’s legs to a spot-up three!) Both bring excitement to the squad, but in completely different fashions.

The worst comparison is claiming both teams hit on International big men after the lottery. First, Serge Ibaka was the 24th selection in the 2008 draft, while Pekovic was the 31st selection (also known as the first pick of the second round). Ibaka is a defender first, averaging 2.4 blocks per game – good for third most in the league. Pekovic has 5 blocks the entire season. Ibaka is also a freak of an athlete. Remember, he was in the Slam Dunk contest last season. Pretty sure Pekovic doesn’t know how to jump off one foot. Now, this isn’t intended to slam Pekovic. He has played well of late, and really done a nice job on the offensive glass. Frankly, it’s to early to even say the Wolves “hit” on drafting Pekovic, especially if you consider DeAndre Jordan was taken four picks later (and incidentally immediately after the Wolves drafted and then traded Mario Chalmers). Regardless, the two players are simply not comparable.

Kahn won the bidding war for Darko Milicic.

Finally, and most importantly, the article neglects to discuss the fact that OKC has surrounded their star players with a great core. OKC signed Thaba Sefolosha away from Chicago, and fills the role of defensive stopper. James Harden, another top draft pick, is turning in a Sixth-Man of the Year type season. And they traded away young, solid players (such as Jeff Green) to nab Kendrick Perkins from the Celtics. Meanwhile, well, I’m pretty sure there is a new adjective for how the Wolves have been built: KAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHN!!!!! To put it nicely, Kahn hasn’t quite built the team in similar fashion. Outside of drafting (and patiently waiting out the two years) Rubio, Kahn has unfortunately whiffed on most of his draft picks – Jonny Flynn (instead of Steph Curry), Ty Lawson (who  was immediately traded), Wes Johnson (instead of DeMarcus Cousins – yes I know he’s a mental midget, but Sactown is so dysfunctional, who knows if he would have responded to K. Love’s leadership and Adelman’s coaching), Nick Calathes (instead of drafting Wes Matthews who went undrafted – sorry, I have a weird, unnatural man-crush on this solid, nothing special Madison native), and they drafted a guy from Senegal (Hamady N’Diaye) that proved to be a few years older than they had thought – kind of embarrassing. Further, Kahn signed two point guards in back-to-back summers to essentially the same deal – Ramon Sessions and Luke Ridnour. He paid $20M to Darko Milicic – yep, that’s the same Darko you’re thinking. Otherwise, the roster is full of players that make for solid 7th to 10th men off the bench. Who knows how Beasley, a.k.a. the Black Hole, fits in with Rubio and the new system. (Full disclosure, I like his role coming off the bench in these past few games. He is one of the few players on the squad that can create his own shot, and is a nice fit for the second team players.) Needless to say, the motley crew of “other players” Kahn has assembled to go with his stars is not quite on the same page as OKC.

There is no doubt that the Wolves are improving… finally. But, they are not the next Thunder. Thankfully the Wolves have another top pick in this draf… oh wait, MCHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALE!!!!!