I'm a long-time Timberwolves fan. Though I was was in the Navy and deployed to exotic Great Lakes, Illinois when the Wolves played their inaugural season, I've followed the team as closely as I could from the beginning. At first that usually meant reading three-sentence blurbs in the sports section of USA Today, but any information was appreciated.
One of my quirks as a sports fan is that I generally support the underdog (unless that underdog is playing the Wolves (which hasn't been a realistic scenario for a while, but still)) . That includes my enthusiasm for players on the Wolves roster. For instance, I was a huge Rhino fan, even though Smith had little chance of ever sticking with the team long-term. To me, he was just an oddball who was effective in strange ways (to an extent, that drives my enthusiasm for Kevin Love, as well).
On the current roster, though, the player who has captured my allegiance is Nikola Pekovic. He's not a star, and he probably never will be. Some of the things he did on the court last year were embarrassing. But he has a combination of size and offensive skill that is pretty rare, especially in the current NBA, where physically-imposing post players are almost extinct. Plus, he seems like a genuinely good guy. Much his appeal lies in his potential (which is a word that gets coaches fired and makes Baby Jesus cry), but I'm okay with that.
John Hollinger's take (Insider) on Pek is mostly negative, but somehow makes me like the Balkan Bulldozer even more:
Projection: 15.7 pts, 8.3 reb, 1.4 ast per 40 min; 11.21 PER | Player card
• Big, flailing foul machine who plays with unbridled physicality.
• Can score around basket. Limited mobility. Brutal ball handler.
• Poor defensive rebounder. Solid shot-blocker. Competes on defense.
Pekovic fouled me while I was writing this. Twice. The burly Monteneg-goon celebrated his arrival by committing 8.16 personal fouls per 40 minutes, becoming only the 15th rookie since the NBA-ABA merger to average more than a foul every five minutes. Surprisingly, a few of them (Matt Geiger, Kevin Duckworth, Roy Hibbert, Malik Rose) turned into decent players.
Most fouls per 40 minutes, 2010-11
Player Team PF/40 Nikola Pekovic Min 8.16 Johan Petro NJ 7.97 Kevin Seraphin Was 7.94 Aaron Gray NO 7.23 Solomon Jones Ind 7.12 Min. 500 minutes
I'm not sure Pekovic will follow them. His translated European stats were really strong based on his offensive stats, but last season fell way short of that level. While Pekovic did produce some offensive positives -- he averaged 16.2 points per 40 minutes, he can finish around the basket, he draws fouls and he's a good foul shooter -- he can't just physically crush people the way he did overseas. Pekovic tends to pick up traveling violations trying to head fake around the basket, while his post-up "method" consists of swinging his arms into an opponent and backing up into him until the ref calls an offensive foul.
Speaking of which, Pekovic is a horrid ball handler; the offensive fouls are only part of the problem, as he had the league's worst pure point rating in 2010-11 (see Dwight Howard comment). If he doesn't bring some refinement to his bull-in-a-china-shop approach, he'll be a career backup.
I know others aren't as fond of Pek as I am, and there's been a lot of talk of using him as a trade piece (especially regarding Houston). I just think he's going to figure out the NBA things that caused him trouble last season, and if he can show this year that he's improving he'll be a valuable asset.
I also think that some of the disappointment about Pek is really displaced Darko aggravation. Darko's been doing his thing in the NBA for most of a decade, so we figure he is what we've seen. Pek's another Slav post player who disappointed last season, so we figure he is what we saw last season. I don't think that's the case.