15 games into the 2012/13 campaign Nikola Pekovic is playing well. The mini-problem is that he's not playing as well, compared to both last year's production and the giddy expectations of a starved fanbase who wants nothing more than to worship their cult hero.
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of what (kind of) ails our fair Pek, let me be clear in saying that he is, by most measures, playing good ball right now. He has a high Simple Rating (+7.2), a 17.4 PER, and he outproduces his matchup on a nightly basis. He's become a better defender and a better passer. In nearly every conceivable way, the Wolves are a better team with him on the court than they are with him on the bench:
It should also be noted that he's doing all of this with a career high usage% of 22.6 on a team that is an NBA MASH unit.
All of that being said, Los Pekos is falling short of last year's amazing holy-crap-he's-the-best-center-in-the-league heights in two key areas: shooting and offensive rebounding.
Last year Pek boasted a TS% of .607, tying him for the 7th best mark in the league with Ray Allen. Pek got to these lofty heights by hitting 65.7% of his shots at the rim, where he took 7 attempts per contest. These also weren't just a lot of post ups. Lots and lots and lots of unicorn pick and rolls went into making this dream a reality.
Beyond 3 feet, the big guy is...um...well, he's a man who clearly understands his limitations, as he only took 2 attempts/game between 3-9 feet, hitting 35% of the time.
This season, Pek sports a .542 TS, tying him for 150th in the league with Jeremy Pargo and Matt Barnes. He is also taking (6) and making (3.7) a full shot fewer at the rim than he was last season. This is compounded by the fact that he is taking nearly a 1/2 shot more from 3-9 feet (2.4 vs 2). A slight positive here is that he's improved his touch from this area, making .458 of these shots.
What is happening here? Let's take a look at the other diminished part of Pek's game: offensive rebounds.
Last year Pek led the league--yes, the league--in offensive rebound percentage, at 15.8%. This year, he's sitting at 10.6%. Looking at it from another angle, Pek is playing 4.6 more minutes per game while grabbing 0.9 fewer offensive rebounds. That's a good place to look for his single lost inside shot per game. It's not like there aren't a wealth of possible offensive rebounds with this year's squad.
This isn't all that small of a relative sample size, either. Last season Pek played 1264 minutes in 47 games. He's pretty much at a quarter of that playing time already with 13 games and 409 minutes.
Unfortunately, Synergy Sports is being finicky and we can't look into what is happening off the pick and roll compared to last year with Rubio in tow. Speaking from memory and with my truthiness gut, I remember a lot of plays where Pek would set a high pick and then rumble down the center of the lane to either attack the offensive glass or receive a nifty pass for a bunny. Again, take this with a grain of salt because it is completely anecdotal, but this sort of play just doesn't seem to be happening a lot this season. Hopefully, Synergy will be back up and running in a little bit and we can find out for sure.
Any other theories? Are defenses collapsing on him sooner because the Wolves can't hit the broad side of a barn from the great beyond? Is this just nothing more than a perfect storm of temporarily
What say you?