Wolves Wednesday: A new and improved Nikola Pekovic


After missing 39 games over the last two seasons, Nikola Pekovic was rewarded with a five-year, $60 million contract this offseason.

Something sound wrong with that?

You're not the only one that thought so, as skeptics maintained that Pek's durability would halt him from becoming a top-end NBA center and earning the money he was given by President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders.

This year, now at the halfway point of the 2013-14 season, Pekovic has silenced the critics, as he's played in every one of Minnesota's 41 games this year.

Not only that, but the Montenegrin center has excelled and gotten stronger as the season has gone on, posting a near double-double (20 points, 9.5 rebounds) since the start of December, and putting up numbers just below that over the entire 2013-14 campaign.

The difference this season?

Associated Press Minnesota sports reporter Jon Krawczysnki investigated the impressive season Pekovic is having and came out with a few answers after talking to those around the organization.

Much of Pek's ability to stay on the court this year goes back to a decision Saunders made in the offseason; to bring in former Washington health professional Koichi Sato.

Saunders was the head coach of the Washington Wizards from 2009-2012, and Sato served as the assistant athletic trainer for Washington in that time, so their relationship preceded Saunders second stint with Minnesota.

According to Krawczynski's article, Sato has changed much of the Wolves workout routine, and Pekovic has been one of the players at the head of the line to embrace the new way of working out.

Pekovic on Sato in the AP article:

"I can feel a lot of difference. Our strength coach, I think he's doing a great job. He's doing some different things and I can feel how my body responds to everything. I feel better. I've never played so much without missing a game. I'll just try to keep playing as many as I can. For now, they're doing a great job."

With the Wolves having so many injury issues the last few years, Sato instituted routines that help avoid the little injuries that can hamper players over long periods of time like hamstring pulls and sprained ankles.

Specifically with Pekovic, upper-body flexibility and a better posture were the starting point of a whole new workout, while deep knee bends and squats followed that.

Sato's tactics are unorthodox, but they seem to be working, as Minnesota has been able to stay more healthy than in recent years, and currently have their entire 15-man roster at their disposal for the first time in recent memory.

Sato and Pekovic are doing their jobs, now it's up to the rest of the Wolves to start getting wins, as they sit one game below .500 at the halfway point.

Here's a midseason report card for Rick Adelman's squad and a hint about the results: Not so good.

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