NBA PM: The Next Dominant NBA Center?
In an NBA where the center position is slowly but surely eroding into a hybrid power forward’s job, there are very few rising stars among the ranks of true, traditional centers. Over the last decade or so, the European influence on the NBA has changed the dynamic of the center position in many ways, as the influx of Euros who can shoot from outside, handle the ball and pass like guards has made the traditional definition of the position all but obsolete. It’s ironic, then, that the best young traditional center in the NBA is a European import.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have been hit by a rash of injuries that nears epic proportions, yet they are off to a 5-2 start due in large part to the play of Montenegrin center Nikola Pekovic. Pekovic improved markedly last season, his second in the NBA, and so far this season he’s been a cornerstone for the Timberwolves to lean on while so many of their rotation players are out.
“I get some more touches,” Pekovic tells HOOPSWORLD of his improved play. “From last year, I get some more balls, and I just try to do my best. We got some problems, like you said, some injured players, so this is a chance for some other guys to step up to show what they have. We have so many guys out, so it’s a very tough job for us, going from game to game. But everybody’s trying to do something more than what they’re used to when everybody is healthy, and we’re just trying to do it and win games until some of the guys come back.”
Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman is no stranger to international players, as his Sacramento Kings team that featured Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic and Hedo Turkoglu was the most international team in the league at the time. Adelman loves what’s getting from his new international power, and thinks he’s just tapping the surface of his potential.
“He’s a very good player, and plays his tail off,” says Adelman of Pekovic. “He’s going to get better, too; it’s just that teams are coming at him a little bit, doubling him a little bit, not making it easy on him, but if he’s out there for 30 to 35 minutes, he’s going to be working the whole time, and he’s a handful.”
Pekovic has born the brunt of the defensive pressure over the first part of the season, as Kevin Love has been out and the ball has gone through Pekovic more as a result. That will help him when Love is back, but Adelman also thinks having Ricky Rubio and Brandon Roy back to help get him the ball will make Pekovic’s life easier.
“It really helps him, though, when you get people like Kevin back and Ricky back, because now that becomes a real problem for the other team,” says Adelman. “Right now, they can kind of load up on him. But I think the experience is good. He learns what it’s like to be doubled. He learns what it’s like when you have to work hard to get something. Frankly, we’re just trying to figure out how to get him the ball. We have a whole new team, so we’re trying figure out how to get him the ball and how we run an offense.”
An All-Star-caliber center is a rare commodity in the NBA, as evidenced by the fact that the league took the position off of their official All-Star ballot this season. Nonetheless, with Pekovic pouring in 15.3 points on the season and even more as his teammates continue to go down around him – 18 and 20 in his last two games, respectively – it looks like the Timberwolves could have an All-Star talent emerging in the low post. Pekovic is impressed with his team’s surprisingly good start, but also thinks they can be much better when they finally get fully healthy.
“Yeah, we can be really good,” says Pekovic. “We are doing really good, we are 5-2. It was a great start for us, but we’ll just have to wait and see when they come back. I hope we’ll do way better, because we really need them and their presence on the court, so we’ll see when they all come back how it’s going to be.”
By all indications, a healthy Timberwolves team with a dominant low-post threat in Pekovic should be able to hold their own with just about any team in the Western Conference. They might even be one of the best.
D’Antoni Surprised He Was Hired By Lakers
When the news came out that Phil Jackson was willing to return to the sidelines and coach the Los Angeles Lakers, it seemed a foregone conclusion that he would be back doing just that. It shocked Lakers fans when the new head coach of their team was named and that name was Mike D’Antoni and not Jackson. In an interview with ESPN Los Angeles this week, D’Antoni admitted he was surprised, too.
“First of all, I understand exactly,” D’Antoni said of Lakers fans’ shock. “Are you kidding me? I was surprised. In the sense of seeing the natural fit, or whatever, but you never know what happens or what goes on. I know (Phil’s) a great coach — has been, will be. One of the best, if not the best. I’ve got some really close friends that are Lakers fans, and they were disappointed. That’s the way it goes. I’m going to do everything I can do to win a championship.”
Once the news sank in that he had been selected as the Lakers’ next head coach, D’Antoni couldn’t help but get “off the charts” excited.
“First of all, Mike (Brown)’s a great friend, good guy, good coach,” said D’Antoni. “Things all over the league happen all the time. The team is built to win a championship this year, next year. They have expectations; I know it’s high, but, at the same time, you look at it and go, ‘Yeah.’ I think any former or ex-NBA coach would die to have that job. That’s a premier job. Obviously, when I heard about the possibility, you get excited about it. Yeah, it was off the charts how excited I was.”
D’Antoni wasted no time in trying to dispel the idea that he will look to implement a seven-seconds-or-less offense with the Lakers, as he did with the Phoenix Suns.
“I think with everything, especially in today’s society, everything is exaggerated,” D’Antoni explained. “The seven-seconds-or-less [system] is an exaggeration. I thought we were very good at halfcourt basketball. We were built small and quick and young and, yeah, we jacked some shots up in the early seconds. That worked. This is a completely different team. This team will be more skilled, much bigger, a little older, much more experienced. We’ll push the tempo a little bit. I think the model would be something like Showtime, but that’s hard to reach. That was the best, probably, that’s ever done. Our current roster right now is great. That’s what gets me excited about coaching. It was built to win a championship.”
Kobe Bryant, of course, played for Mike D’Antoni when the latter was an assistant coach with Team USA, so there is a familiarity and a mutual respect that will help get things off on the right foot.
“I think great,” D’Antoni said of his relationship with Bryant. “As an assistant coach, it’s really good. ‘Hey, get Kobe the ball.’ (laughs). Kobe is one of the best — has been, will be — players ever. He’s very competitive, intense, and that’s why he has championship rings to prove it. He plays extremely hard. What’s there not to like? I can’t wait to coach him and figure out with him what we need to do to win.”
There is, of course, concern that D’Antoni has never been a great defensive coach, but he is quick to point out that he has the personnel in L.A. to have a balanced attack on both ends of the court.
“The easy answer is everyone knows you have to have a balanced team,” said D’Antoni. “If you’re really good offensively, then all your time should go into the defensive end. That’s what we did in Phoenix. We never became great at it. We were small, we were young, but we became good enough to win 62 games and, I thought, we had a chance to win a title.”
It’s also important to understand that coming in and completely changing an offensive system overnight is not likely to be a successful way to approach the situation in Los Angeles.
“I think it’s important, first of all, not to go too quick,” says D’Antoni. “There’s time. Second of all, you have great, experienced players that, anyway you wouldn’t try to burden them with too much and just let them play. Then you just try to wean them in little by little, getting everybody on the same page. I’m not coming in and changing everything. These guys know how to play. And then having Steve Nash, who already knows, more or less, is a luxury. Having the best guy that’s played the point guard position the last 10 years, who understands the transition we want to do, makes it a lot easier.”
Rockets Want White To Seek Medical Help?
Royce White was one of the most anticipated new members of the Houston Rockets as training camp got underway last month, as he is one of the most versatile players to come into the league in quite some time. Unfortunately, an anxiety disorder interfered with his ability to participate in some of the preparations for the season, he saw limited preseason action, and now other circumstances threaten to derail his rookie season before it has even begun.
The situation came to a head on Tuesday, after White had been way from the team without permission since Sunday. White issued the following statement regarding his situation:
“In hindsight, perhaps it was not a good idea to be open and honest about my anxiety disorder – due to the current situations at hand that involve the nature of actions from the Houston Rockets,” White said. “As a rookie, I want to settle into a team and make progress; but since preseason the Rockets have been inconsistent with their agreement to proactively create a healthy and successful relationship.
“At this point, the Rockets are aware of my position and the reason for my absence. Any other response is inaccurate. This is important to me. It is a health issue. I must advocate for my rights. it is a player-commodity league. The failure to meet my requests for support will end with me being unhealthy and that is not a consequence that I am willing to accept to play any sport.”
According to Fox Sports Houston, the Rockets would like for White to see Dr. Aaron Fink of Houston to try and address some of the issues he’s going through, but to date White has refused to a meeting.
In the meantime, with White refusing to report to his assignment with Houston’s NBDL affiliate and also refusing to see a specialist, the Rockets will fine him for every day he is away from the team without permission.
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