The Minnesota Timberwolves have a logjam in the frontcourt, which is one of the reasons why the team just cut ties with 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett. The Wolves added Karl-Anthony Towns with the No. 1 pick this year, and with third-year pro Gorgui Dieng providing solid contributions, the 5 spot appears to be in good hands for the future.
Over at the 4, a full year of service from Kevin Garnett, the presence of youngster Adreian Payne and the addition of Euro star Nemanja Bjelica has that position stocked as well. With all of these players in place, the role of injured big man Nikola Pekovic is in question moving forward.
While Garnett was brought in for a number of off-court reasons, he’s also viewed as a great mentor for the young stars on the roster, showing Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Towns the ins-and-outs of the NBA. Flip Saunders also previously stated that Garnett will start as a result of being the team’s best power forward, and that likely won’t change even with interim head coach Sam Mitchell taking over. One has to wonder if the positives that KG brings actually have a negative effect on Pekovic’s role with the club.
The same can be said for the addition of Towns. As a highly touted No. 1 pick on a rebuilding squad, Towns will surely get plenty of minutes, and with Garnett set to start and receive around 20 minutes per game, that leaves little room for Pekovic (when he gets healthy) considering the other young players also on the roster.
The 29-year-old Pekovic has had issues remaining healthy during his five years with the Wolves, although he’s been a solid contributor when he does play. Last year aside, when he played in the least amount of games since joining the team in 2010, Pek was just hitting his stride, playing approximately 31 minutes a night and averaging 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in 2012-2013, and then 17.4 points and 8.7 rebounds in 2013-2014 (although he still missed 48 games combined).
However, while Pekovic has his strengths offensively and posts solid numbers across the board, his man-to-man and help-side defensive abilities as a big man are near polar opposites, something that Garnett, Towns and to a lesser extent Dieng make up for.
Currently, Pekovic is still nursing the Achilles injury that cut his 2014-15 season to only 31 games, and it’s unclear when he’ll be ready to go again:
Wolves aren't saying anything but my guess is it'd be good news if Pek was back playing games by the new year
— Jerry Zgoda (@JerryZgoda) September 26, 2015
Most teams will tell you that injuries don’t impact playing roles once a player returns to full health, however, that usually only rings true for the superstar level talent in the league. When you combine the lack of health with a big-money contract (Pekovic inked a five-year, $60 million contract a couple of seasons ago), it’s imperative that you provide your team with something.
With youngsters in Dieng, Payne and Bjelica around on appealing contracts, an organization dedication to Garnett and the first overall selection of Towns, playing time looks sparse for the man from Montenegro. Sure the Timberwolves just let go of a disappointing forward in Bennett, but it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise if the club looks to part ways with Pekovic at some point this season.