…Minnesota center Nikola Pekovic, and how obvious it is that he should have been the late addition to the Rising Stars Challenge instead of Norris Cole? Jeremy Lin was rightfully added late because of his recent spurt (and Cole was the B-side to keep the teams even), yet check out what the Timberwolves’ second-year center has done in his last 13 games: 17 ppg, 10 rpg (5 offensive!), 1.0 bpg, 0.9 spg, 61% FG%. Pekovic has been starting in Darko’s absence, and he’s putting up those amazing numbers against 9 teams with winning records (keeping in mind Lin’s run has come against 1 winning team in 8 contests). Pekovic is all muscle and hustle, and for him to be recording those sort of scoring and rebounding stats next to Kevin Love every night is simply amazing. It’s not like the big Montenegrin is coming out of nowhere, either: After crushing all comers in the EuroLeague and the Adriatic League for years, he was a shoe-in to be a top-10 pick in the 2008 Draft…except he was already locked up in one of those long-term, high-paying European contracts, so he dropped to the first pick of the 2nd round (if not for that, he was a guaranteed top-10 pick in the draft featuring Rose, Beasley, Westbrook, Love, Gallinari, Mayo, Gordon, Lopez, Ibaka, Augustin, Hibbert, etc. – that’s how dominant he had been overseas). So instead of including someone in the Rising Stars Challenge who’s obviously one of the top up-and-coming talents in the league, Kenny Smith chose to add Miami’s Norris Cole to the pool that already included 6 point guards. Cole had a couple really good games off the bench early in the season, and since then he’s generally been an unimpressive shooter (42% FG, 30% 3FG) with bad turnover numbers who every once in a blue moon has a game worth mentioning (and don’t forget his first career start last week in which the Heat got killed). Give Petrovic some love because he’s certainly going to be one of the few youngsters from this season who will be worth mentioning in a couple years.
…the steadily improving game of Charlotte rookie Bismack Biyombo, who many people couldn’t wait to label as a future-bust when he was chosen with the 7th pick in last June’s Draft? Not even the most hard-core NBA fans had any clue who Biyombo was as recently as 11 months ago. His shot blocking and rebounding were all the rave after last Spring’s Nike Hoops Summit, though, but pundits wondered if this extremely raw player with almost no offensive game or professional experience (plus one of those pain-in-the-ass European contracts and a questionable age) could really come into the league and provide anything to a club other than end-of-the-bench fouls. He started out the season slowly, coming off the bench here and there, usually getting into quick foul trouble (he’s unsettlingly aggressive for someone with so little experience) and making almost no shots except the occasional put-back dunk or lay-up. But he also showed an awareness of his limitations, generally just taking shots he could reasonably make (49% FG), and he kept racking up some ridiculous blocks numbers: 2 in 13 minutes against the Heat, 3 in 13 minutes against the Hawks, 5 in 12 minutes against the Pistons, 4 in 21 minutes against Orlando, 4 in 18 minutes against the Nets. His rebounding was inconsistent but sporadically great. So finally the Bobcats figured it was worth trying Biyombo in the starting lineup two weeks ago since nothing else was working, and he’s done pretty well since. Outside of one frustrating contest in Boston on Feb. 7, he’s scoring 7 ppg on a very heady 64% shooting, grabbing 9 rpg (3.0 offensive), and has blocked at least one shot every game on his way to 2.2 bpg—with an amazing 7 against Toronto Friday night. All of this has been in only 27 minutes per game, quite an accomplishment for someone who had never made an appearance in any league worth knowing before joining the Spanish ACB last January. He still needs a lot of work creating shots for himself, but he’s playing within himself and is currently 4th in the league in Block%, plus he’s top-30 in Rebound%. Charlotte will likely start Biyombo the rest of the season in order to get him that all-important experience, which might be all he needs to become the next Ben Wallace.