After the “big two” among free agents (Chris Paul and Dwight Howard), there is a significant drop-off in terms of perceived talent. This isn’t a summer with an endless list of All-Stars on the market, and it becomes an issue of personal preference in a hurry. The Hawks are in a unique position entering the summer in that a) they have $30+ million in cap room to spend on players, and b) they have only 4 players under contract for 2013-2014. The “fit” around Al Horford and Lou Williams (who is recovering from his ACL injury) will be a concern, but both players are highly adaptable, making the entire “big board” available to the Hawks via free agency. Today, we’ll take a look at Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic.
The casual fan may not know a lot about the T-Wolves center, but he has been a tremendously valuable player over the past couple of seasons. Pekovic averaged 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game in 2012-2013, and did so despite averaging only 31.6 minutes per contest. In addition to those lofty numbers, he was among the league-leaders in points in the paint (where the Hawks could use the help), and field-goal percentage (52%) while maintaining solid free-throw numbers (74%) in route to a stellar 57.2% true-shooting percentage.
To translate a bit, Pekovic is a very, very good player around the rim, and at 6-foot-11 and a “listed” 290 pounds, he’s a mountain of a man that would look extremely good next to a more mobile big like Al Horford. Hawks fans have been yearning for a “true” center for years, and while I don’t share that view (because I believe Al Horford is a top-5 center in this version of the NBA), Pekovic and Horford would be a nice fit together.
However, it isn’t all roses for the big man from Montenegro. Other than his geographic location (Minnesota is a wasteland for the NBA), the main reason that Pekovic isn’t considered to be on the same level as Paul and Howard is that he has had trouble staying on the court. He played only 47 games during the strike-shortened campaign and followed that up with only 62 games this season. Durability wouldn’t seem to be a question for a player with Pekovic’s power, but when the missed games add up on a player who is already 27 years old, it’s an issue. In addition to those concerns, he is (at best) an average defender, and he isn’t the rim-protecting presence (0.8 blocks per game in 12-13) that most teams want out of the center position.
The overriding position this summer is that there is a huge drop-off after Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, and I would 100% agree with that assessment. Part of the reason that I settled on Pekovic as my default “number three” for the wish list is due to his projected cost. Because of the fact that I believe he’s vastly underrated, I could see Pekovic (who is a restricted free agent, mind you) garnering a more reasonable contract number than that of guys like Andrew Bynum (who you won’t find anywhere near my list) or Josh Smith. The T-Wolves are financially tied to Kevin Love and, potentially, Ricky Rubio, and if the Hawks threw a large offer sheet at Pekovic, it would make Minnesota’s decision difficult. In the end, I don’t think it’s likely to see Pekovic in a Hawks uniform, but in terms of value, I think he would be a tremendous fit at the cost required to bring him on board.