Sam Mitchell tells the media there is a 50/50 chance Pek could play tomorrow night against Denver. pic.twitter.com/M0MhCaAiEq— Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) January 5, 2016
In news that has long been awaited, tomorrow evening's game against the Denver Nuggets could finally be the time for Nikola Pekovic to return to an NBA court after his long battle with an Achilles injury. This will be the first time in the 2015-16 season that he will be active for a game, and his upgrade to questionable is also a first for the season.
If tomorrow does mark his return, it will be his first game action in almost ten months. His last game was March 11 against Phoenix, in which he only played eight minutes. He played in 31 games in 2014-15, starting 29 of them. He averaged 12.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, down from his marks in both of the previous seasons but understandable given his constant fight with injury, first the sprained wrist that put him out in the tenth game of the season, then the ankle problems that have always been his biggest problem. He returned in January, but was limited for the next two months.
Pek coming back fixes few of the larger issues that appear to be bigger problems with the Wolves right now. He will take minutes that could go to Gorgui Dieng or Karl-Anthony Towns, which, given Towns' minutes have already been a point of discussion, could ruffle some feathers. However, he should instantaneously improve the Wolves' defensive rebounding, and mobility aside, it will still be really difficult to move Pek when he boxes out for an opposing player. He is still Pek.
There is also the factor of Pek's contract. He remains the second-highest paid player on the roster with his $12.1 million per year for this season and the two following. From the front office's perspective, Pek coming back and being a productive basketball player can either give the Wolves control of that player, or turn him into at least a viable trade asset, given the growth that both Towns and Dieng have shown.
Regardless of the basketball impact, when Pek missed his first game of last season with a sprained wrist that Flip Saunders thought would have him out no more than a week, the following fourteen-month journey of rest and recovery was not what was expected. It led to this tweet from the AP's Jon Krawczynski, nine months ago.
Pekovic had his surgery today. Basically a last-ditch effort. If this doesn't work, not much else can be done.— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) April 8, 2015
This cannot have been an easy journey for Pek the human being, and for him personally, making it back to the court will be a victory. All the best to big number 14 in his hopeful return tomorrow.