Nikola Pekovic has undergone a complete transformation into a highly useful player this season. His PER has jumped up to 21.6 from a below league average of 11.2 in 2010-’11. He’s shooting at a higher percentage and hitting the offensive boards at a much higher rate. Since last year, Pekovic has improved in almost every offensive situation:
Despite having the 5th best PER among 1st and 2nd year players, he still got snubbed from the Rookie-Sophomore Game. Let’s take a look at Pek’s under-the-radar success.
Pekovic has seen a sizeable increase in his points per possession in the post, where he currently ranks 22nd in the NBA. It’s easy to see why this improvement has taken place when you take a look at the kind of post possessions he’s getting. His ability to establish position deep in the paint, sometimes even with a foot inside the charge circle, is key to his success. This is a big difference from last year, where Head Coach Kurt Rambis had him backing down defenders from outside the lane. After taking a look at all of Pekovic’s post possessions, about 60% of them have come where he has two feet in the paint. And when Pek gets the ball at the rim, he’s shooting 70.5%. That number is in the company of noted finishers Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan. The following video shows a few examples of the great position Pek can get against big bodies such as Demarcus Cousins and Roy Hibbert. Pekovic’s best asset is his size (not his leaping ability), so it is important for him to initiate contact with the defender to get position and eliminate their ability to contest the shot.
Pekovic has also seen a large increase in his efficiency when cutting to the hoop and rolling on the pick and roll. Having Ricky Rubio as your point guard can help those numbers. Rubio has been the initial ball handler on two-thirds of Pekovic’s rolling possessions. The video below shows a few pick and roll possessions with Rubio and Pekovic. Pek has shown some ability to catch the ball away from the basket or in traffic, take a power dribble, and score. Watch how Pekovic uses his body to finish the play.
When cutting to the hoop, Pekovic actually doesn’t see that many passes from Rubio. Only a third of Pekovic’s cutting possessions originate from a Rubio pass. However, the same principles discussed above apply to this part of Pek’s game. Pek just makes himself available for the pass and seeks contact, in no particular order.
Nikola Pekovic’s improvement has been tied to his ability to get shots near the rim and score. Having Ricky Rubio find you helps matters, but Pekovic also has a strong desire to throw his body around to get where he needs to go.