Thunder

Pokusevski’s Potential a Bright Light in OKC’s Future

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Ricky Rubio and two first-round draft picks.

That’s what Sam Presti was willing to surrender for the 17th pick in the 2020 NBA draft, Aleksej Pokusevski. Safe to say Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder are extremely high on the 19-year-old Serbian, despite some concern around his potential. The upside was considered too high and Thunder’s draft assets weren’t, and still aren’t, exactly in short supply.

Pokusevski arrived to the basketball scene in Europe, playing for Olympiacos in the EuroLeague. He spent a lot of time with their reserve team, where he averaged 10.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.

Impressive numbers for an 18-year-old.

With his rookie year in the rearview mirror, let’s reflect on what the young prospect has done so far.

Strengths in his Game

Ball Handling Big

One thing that really stands out about Pokusevski’s game is his ability to put the ball on the floor and make a play. This isn’t something we used to associate with a player of his size but are seeing more of now with the latest MVP, Nikola Jokic, leading the way.

If Poku carries on like this, he can develop into the perfect modern big. He’d be in a rare group of players that can run the pick and roll as both the ball handler and the screener, as he does the former here against the 76ers.

Oh and he topped it off with a pretty floater for good measure.

Playmaking and IQ

His basketball IQ is also off the charts. He reads the game like an experienced veteran, despite being just 19 years old. The awareness of where his teammates are at all times is something you can’t teach. Combine this with his ability to make a crafty pass, and you have yourself the prefect point-forward.

We are in the era of the modern big. The position is evolving and it’s no longer good enough to be a solid post-player. In a league full of double teams and collapsing defenses, having a guard’s passing ability is no doubt going to take your further. He’s already showcased his passing in his short time in the league, including this sweet behind-the-back pass against the Wizards.

Room for Improvement

Build

Poku’s build is an issue, for now. Despite being 7’0 tall, he weighs just 190 lbs. That’s the same weight as C.J. McCollum, Goran Dragic and Immanuel Quickley – all of whom are 6’3″. His lack of weight and muscle make it extremely difficult for him to post up against other bigs.

Along with that, he naturally becomes a defensive liability inside, as he just doesn’t have the strength to handle some of the league’s biggest bodies. Although he’s nimble, he doesn’t have the speed of a traditional wing, either.

He finds himself in a bit of a tricky spot where he’s not strong enough to be a traditional big and not quick enough to be a perimeter player. It’s important to remember, though, he is one of the youngest players in the league. There’s plenty of time for the rookie to hit the gym and put himself in a place to complete with the league’s most physical players.

Shooting

Another area Poku must work on is his shooting. He’s certainly flashed what he can do, with multiple games above 40% from behind the line.

Conversely, however, there have been countless games where he’s jacked up multiple attempts and failed to connect on any of them. Being a streaky shooter isn’t a concern at such a young age, but he does have the tendency to be careless in his shot selection at times.

This of course contributes to his poor shooting percentages. He’s at just 32.5% from the floor and 25.9% from three. With experience, he’ll learn how to slow down and work his way into a better shot rather than forcing attempts. If he can couple this with shooting practice, he’ll develop into an efficient scorer of the basketball.

A handful of rough shooting nights for Aleksej Pokusevski this season (via Basketball Reference).

Rookie Year

In what was a dire year for the Thunder, the development of Poku has been a silver lining. The stats might not jump out as anything exceptional — he averaged just 8.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game — but there have been multiple performances worth getting excited over. None more impressive, perhaps, than his first career start against the Memphis Grizzlies. In a rare win, the rookie dropped 23 points, 10 rebounds and shot 5-8 from three-point land.

He showed he wasn’t afraid to compete with grown men and that he was capable of both scoring and challenge on the glass.

This wasn’t an anomaly, either. Poku has had multiple impressive games, notably putting up 21 points/six rebounds and 14 points/eight rebounds/two blocks against the Dallas Mavericks.

The Thunder had a down season as expected, but getting young players like Poku reps amongst experience NBA players could prove to be priceless in the long term. No one expected him to compete for ROY, but flashing of brilliance is a promising sign.

The Future for Pokusevski

It’s safe to say Oklahoma City has found themselves a gem in Aleksej Pokusevski. In fact, if a redraft was done today, he’d almost certainly fall in the lottery. The fans are certainly agreement over this, with many anticipating him to be a top-10 pick.

https://twitter.com/_OKCUK/status/1390634859803156484?s=20

A young, ball-handling big that can make a play and has shown flashes of being an elite shooter. It might have cost two late first rounders, but the risk is on track to pay off. If Poku continues to develop his game and work in the gym, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander might have his front-court partner of the future.

Could this turn out to be a Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant-type duo?

That might be a tad optimistic, but Thunder fans can certainly dream.

Follow us on Twitter @ThunderLead for the latest Thunder news and insight. 

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