Aleksej Pokusevski is unusual.
Pokusevski is the youngest active NBA player. He traveled around 6,000 miles during a pandemic to join the NBA, and experienced the shortest NBA offseason in recent memory. He is as tall as a center, but weighs the same as Steph Curry. There are few things about “Poku”, as he’s come to be known, that can be considered ordinary.
To this point in his young career, there’s not much live game data to analyze Poku’s performance. He’s only played 296 total minutes, and his per game averages of 3.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.2 assists are aggressively pedestrian. One bright spot is Poku’s good shot blocking instincts, as evidenced by his 1.1 blocks per game despite the limited floor time. His shooting percentages are ghastly enough as to warrant omittance here. His recent assignment to the OKC Blue suggests he has a lot of work ahead of him, which is certainly correct. However, there is significant evidence that this atypical youngster will be a memorable part of Thunder history. The moments are fleeting for now, but noteworthy all the same.
How many seven footers bury off the dribble threes with this level of fluidity?
I’ve yet to see Kristaps Porzingis take off with a defensive rebound QUITE like this:
And here’s some of the aforementioned defensive versatility and shot blocking:
Poku’s mobility, shooting stroke, and comfort handling the basketball combined with his length are the building blocks of a rare player. The outline of a rim protecting five with the mobility to guard multiple positions and create matchup problems for virtually every opposing defense exists here.
Poku’s collection of skills and length give him a chance to become that type of player, and that type of player is one of the archetypes every GM in the league dreams of finding; pairing such a player with a lead ball handler like Shai Gilgeous Alexander is practically a fantasy. Poku has even flashed some decent passing vision that bodes well for his ability to keep defenses honest on the short roll.
There is a future in which the SGA/Poku pick and roll is the fulcrum of a highly efficient Thunder offense. Will it materialize? Time will tell.
The elephant in the room is physicality. Poku absolutely has to bulk up his spindly frame and become more comfortable with contact on both ends of the floor as a result. So far in his career it’s been rare to see Poku initiate contact in any context, be it a box out, a drive, or establishing position in the post. An allergy to contact will make it difficult for Poku to play the 5, where he presents the most matchup problems on offense and can deter shots at the rim on defense most readily. He doesn’t need to become a Zion-esque physical specimen, but a baseline of strength will prevent injury and afford him more leeway in unlocking the rest of his game.
Adding Poku to this Thunder roster has always been about the long game, as are the large majority of the franchise’s decisions at the moment. In addition to the flashes of jarringly brilliant potential, Poku says all the right things and appears to have a lot of believers within the Thunder organization. No matter how tantalizing the flashes are, though, it’s always been clear that Poku has work to do to become a regular in an NBA rotation. With his assignment to the G League, it appears that Poku stock is trading at an all time low.
Buy low, hold, and watch this strikingly unusual and talented prospect go to the moon. Poku Diamond Hands.