MINNEAPOLIS — If the massive, gothic tattoos on Nikola Pekovic’s left shoulder and right calf don’t get your knees knocking, his expressionless face and 6-foot-11, 290-pound frame should do the trick.
Throw in a thick beard and a close-cropped haircut that comes to a point in the front just a few inches above his eyebrows, and he looks more like a henchman in a James Bond film than a center for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Thirty games into his second season in the NBA, Pekovic is showing that he has a big, bad game to match his menacing image.
Pekovic is averaging 17.1 points and 11.7 rebounds in nine games this month to assert himself as the starting center the team has long been searching for while giving All-Star Kevin Love the extra muscle he has needed in the frontcourt.
“I knew what I can do,” Pekovic said on Thursday. “Maybe I don’t know that I can do it like this so much, but I knew that I can play. ... I was just waiting for my chance.”
Three weeks ago, Pekovic was hardly seeing the floor and looked like another Timberwolves second-round draft pick that wasn’t going to turn out. Now he’s a fan favorite who has emerged as a force in the middle with more nicknames than Jeremy Lin.
The Peksecutioner, Pektacular, Peksanity (a tongue-in-cheek homage to Lin’s out-of-nowhere explosion), Tyrannosaurus Pek (he doesn’t like that one very much), the Balkan Bulldozer. Then there’s his favorite.
“The Godfather,” Pekovic says, giving the closest thing to a smile that he’ll allow.
The Target Center speakers bellow with the famous mobster movie’s one-horn theme whenever Pekovic scores, though he probably more closely resembles Luca Brasi than Don Corleone. He’s doing all the dirty work in the trenches to protect Love and the rest of his team.
“I think it helps Kevin a little bit,” guard J.J. Barea said. “Gives Kevin a little bit of a break and means Kevin doesn’t have to get all the rebounds. He’s done a tremendous job for this team. I think he’s going to keep getting better and it’s going to help us out.”
The latest example came Wednesday night against Charlotte, when he played a career-high 43 minutes — all 24 in the second half — and took Bobcats rookie Bismack Biyombo wherever he wanted to take him en route to 21 points and 11 rebounds in the victory.
“I don’t think he’s really had a poor game in the last two weeks,” coach Rick Adelman said recently. “He doesn’t try to do anything that’s really not with his strengths. He stays with his strengths and he’s aggressive. You need people like that.”