Nikola Pekovic is a very large, very strong, very muscular man whose 6-foot-11, 290-pound frame makes him a bone-rattling pick-setter, a very scary man to be in front of when he's got a head of steam rolling to the rim off one of those solid screens, and a beastly burden for defenders to bear in the low post. He's ridden his bruising gifts (along with a defter-than-you-might-expect touch and surprisingly nifty footwork) to a very impressive first half for the Minnesota Timberwolves, averaging just under 20 points and 10 rebounds per 36 minutes of floor time and pairing with All-Star-starting power forward Kevin Love to give Rick Adelman one of the best interior combos in the league this season.
Perhaps most importantly, though, Pekovic has been able to stay on the floor. After signing a five-year, $60 million contract extension this past offseason, the Montenegrin center has appeared in all 41 Minnesota contests, trailing only Love for the team lead in minutes played; this is a very welcome change, considering he's missed 52 games over the past three seasons for the Wolves. So what's Pek doing differently to keep himself off the injured list this year? According to Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, it's got a lot to do with the scary bearded monster pretending he's a big ol' baby:
Three times a week, [Pekovic is] in the Target Center basement weight room down on his stomach or elbows or all fours, making small, measured movements intended to replicate how an infant learns to crawl, roll, sit and eventually walk.
The tattooed, self-declared “real man” whom opponents call probably the NBA’s strongest also will deliver, if the mood strikes him, sound effects along with the delicate motions designed to strengthen and stabilize his smaller muscles after he has spent a lifetime pumping the biggest ones.
“Waaaaaaa,” he says, contorting his face and mimicking a baby’s cry. [...]
Well, that's not a sentence I thought I'd read today.
As Zgoda explains, Pekovic's "baby reaches" — undertaken with more fearsome-sounding "bear walks" — are part of a regimen instituted by Koichi Sato, whom new Minnesota president of basketball operations Flip Saunders brought over from the Washington Wizards last summer to be the Timberwolves' director of sports performance. Sato's goal: get the Wolves players focusing not only on working out major muscle groups to add bulk and strength, but also on stuff like developing smaller stabilizing muscles that can help players avoid nagging injuries, improving their posture and gait to limit wear and tear from all the running that NBA players do, and increasing their flexibility to steer clear of pitfalls like sprains and strains.
This is a very reasonable approach to physical fitness. It also requires giant post players who look like supervillains to act like babies and Little Miss Sunshine. More from Zgoda:
A man who once only pumped more and more iron, Pekovic now walks with a block atop his head on a beam placed on the weight-room floor, not all that unlike a beauty-show contestant from days gone by who balanced a book on her head to improve posture. [...]
Now Pekovic himself impersonates a baby, a bear and a beauty queen in the weight room without hearing so much as a snicker from a teammate.
“I think he enjoys the baby ones better because then he gets to make the noises,” Love said. “He’s a big baby. A big teddy bear, too, though.”
Well, yeah. He's a big everything.
The 20-21 Wolves in need of all the production they can get as they look to improve upon their late-game foibles and crack the top eight of a brutally tough Western Conference, and keeping Pekovic mobile and hostile figures to be a pretty big part of that. Apparently, generating the sort of play (averaging nearly 21 points on 54.4 percent shooting over his last 20 games) that makes coaches go gaga requires one of the scariest men in the NBA to go goo-goo. You learn something new every day when you follow this league.
Hat-tip to Trey Kerby of The Starters.
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