Kevin Love might be the best power forward in the game right now, and Nikola Pekovic is an offensive beast who the Minnesota Timberwolves just locked up on a long-term contract. The Wolves hope to extend Love long-term too, which is one of the main reasons the team is trying so hard to win now. If Love can lead his team to the playoffs it will go a long way toward him sticking around for the next few seasons and beyond. So it seems pretty clear that the Wolves have both of these players in their long term plans, but there’s an issue. Though both are terrific players at their positions, they share a common weakness – neither Love nor Pekovic is an adequate rim defender.
The Timberwolves’ defense isn’t bad overall. They rank 12th in the league in defensive rating meaning they’re slightly above average. This makes sense as they have some good perimeter defenders in Ricky Rubio, Corey Brewer, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Where their defense falls apart, however, is in the paint. The Wolves allow opponents to shoot 64.5 percent from within five feet, good for worst in the league. Everywhere else they’re solidly average, but failure to defend the rim has led to a losing record.
It’s not that Love and Pekovic are lazy defenders, they simply lack the requisite bodies to effectively block and challenge shots. They make the right moves and rotations for the most part, and Pekovic is almost a skilled version of Kendrick Perkins where his main defensive tactic is intimidation — seriously, Pek looks really, really scary. Love’s wingspan is under seven feet, though, and while Pekovic’s is decent at 7-foot-2, neither have the standing jumping ability to really give opponents trouble.
Their defensive shortcomings are obvious, and the Timberwolves likely acquired Gorgui Dieng on draft day in an attempt to bring some rim protection off the bench. Dieng is already leading the league in blocks per 36 minutes, which is incredibly deceiving as he’s playing just six minutes per game. Right now his rim defense really doesn’t make up for his overall game which has been raw and ineffective so far.
Averaging nearly 40 points and over 20 rebounds per game from the front court is pretty good, though, and it’s tough to say if the Pekovic and Love offensive combination makes up for the awful defensive combination. They really play well off each other on the offensive side, and finding skilled big men is tough in today’s NBA so there aren’t any easy options for trading Pekovic or Love. This team is good, though. They’re nowhere near championship good — largely because of Love and Pekovic’s defense — but they are playoffs good, which, once again, is largely because of Love and Pekovic’s offense.
But this team won’t be championship good with a Love and Pekovic front court unless Gorgui Dieng develops unexpectedly or the Wolves sign an elite defensive specialist center. The Wolves aren’t likely to do that, though, after signing Pekovic to a huge deal, so they will ride the Love and Pekovic train as far as it takes them. It should take them pretty far, too, and it will definitely be a fun ride to watch.