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Knee-jerk Notes #1: Nikola Pekovic

This may or may not be a series I do throughout the year. Obviously, feel free to leave some feedback- positive or negative. Together, we'll try to learn Flip Saunders' playbook as much as we can. Today, I'm looking at how the Wolves used Pekovic during the opening minutes of Friday's game.

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First, before getting into this, everyone should be aware I have no remaining duties left to fulfill at my job today. Thus, I am just hoping to put more content onto this website. These are merely notes. Some may be crazy, others logical, so just stick with me. Or tell me I'm loco- either one is appropriate.

I only was able to see some of the game when it aired live. That's why I'm replaying it now. Shouts to Russian Bee for the torrent links.

How can the Wolves use Nikola Pekovic?

Pekovic was a beneficiary to Kevin Love's ability to connect on three point attempts. Love spaced the floor so well, Pekovic had lots and lots of room to punish defenders and find position under the basket. Mike Prada illuminated what I'm talking, a while ago, in this post.

Now, with Love gone, there is less room for Pekovic to work with- though the Wolves still need to keep him involved. Flip Saunders understand Pek is important to the Wolves offense. All examples you're about to see took place during the opening quarter of the game.

Example #1: The Basic High-Low

Here's what happens. I'll show you in pictures and GIFs below.

The Wolves start by setting a screen for Wiggins, who starts nearly underneath the hoop, allowing him to catch the ball on the perimeter. Ricky, after passing to Wiggins, runs through the middle and heads toward the near-corner. Meanwhile, Wiggins makes a short pass to Young on the far-elbow.

Here's where we stand.



The idea is to have Young (on the elbow) dump the ball into Pekovic on the far-block. A few takeaways here.

  1. Wiggins: Drop down to the corner, young fella.
  2. Brewer drifts above Young and takes Alexey Shved out of the lane- this gives Pekovic more space to work with.
  3. Rubio's outside shooting is not respected by his defender, Tony Wroten. You can tell by how close he is to the lane. Ergo, if Pekovic were to have obtained possession, help-defense underneath the basket would've meet the big fella at the rim.
  4. Likely outcome: Foul, or an and-1, or no points and no foul. *shrugs*

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Young doesn't need to use a bounce pass here. A touch-pass over the top of the defense would allow Pek to catch the ball and immediately go up strong to the rim. When catching a pass near the floor or knees, it takes longer to bring the ball up toward the hoop- allowing more time for a defender on the weak side to rotate and contest a shot.

The result of this play: A new play. Pek was fouled as he tried to receive the pass.

Example #2: On the ensuing play.


Pek, while setting this screen, creates space in the paint.

Here; Wiggins sets up in the near-corner- you can't see him, Brewer the far-corner, Young on the left-block while Pek performs a screen for Rubio at the top of the key. Wiggins ability to drag his defender into the corner, away from the play, means the opponent is assuming he's a threat connect from three point range.

This setup gives Rubio and Pekovic plenty of room to operate (and hopefully execute) a pick-&-role play. We may see a lot of this during the year.

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The defender is fooled by Rubio's behind-the-back-crossover dribble and cannot get through the screen. Pek's defender does not hedge, so Rubio, essentially, for lack of a better term, is heading "downhill" toward the basket. Shved should be fronting Young when Brandon Davies (Sixers #0) rotates to bodyup Pekovic. On this play, Shved doesn't front Young.

Thus, after catching the no-look pass from Rubio, Young is met with minimal resistance before completing a layup.

The result: two points.

Example #3: Look familiar? It's another High-Low set.

High-Low #2.

Not only is this another high-low look, it's the same high-look illustrated in Example #1. This time, though, the play takes longer to develop.

This time, Henry Sims (Sixers #35) isn't bullied moved by Pekovic toward the corner. Sims sustains solid position between Pekovic and the basket, therefore Young decides not to throw an entry pass (as opposed to Example #1).

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Like before, Brewer brings Shved away from the paint and crosses paths with Wiggins- this happens above Young on the left-wing. After, Young has a few options. He may; Pass to Wiggins, who is cutting through the lane toward the basket, feed Pekovic once he gets into better position on the block or reset the offense by passing to Rubio near the top of the key.

The result: Pekovic is fouled and goes to the free throw line.

In conclusion

It looks as though the Wolves curated a basic high-low set using Pekovic as the primary scoring option. This is reflected in Examples #1 and #3.

The pick-&-roll action in Example #2 is also very basic. Rubio simply probed the defense and found Young open for a layup. Next time, he may connect with a rolling Pekovic. Maybe, sometimes, he'll pull up for a mid range jumpshot.

As I said, these are just observations. Hopefully you've learned something. Maybe you didn't learn anything. I don't know.

Tell me your thoughts.