Coming out of the Greek 2nd division, there were justifiable concerns regarding Sam Presti’s decision to trade up in the 2020 Draft and select the 190-pound 7-footer. Aleksej Pokusevski fits right in line with Presti’s favorite type of player to draft, a raw talent with all the potential in the world, but far from an NBA contributor in present time.
Now don’t get me wrong, most advanced metrics place Pokusevski in the bottom five players of the 2021 season. But the flashes of brilliance that Presti expected were well and truly present.
While he possesses an incredibly thin frame and lacks any strength whatsoever, Pokusevksi’s height is a huge factor in his potential. There are not many 7-footers who have the agility, speed, and ball-handling ability to create their own shots off the dribble like Pokusevski does.
Here he fakes like he’s going to use the screen from Moses Brown then crosses over before getting past Luke Kennard for the finger roll layup. You can see he uses his freakishly long arms to get the finger roll layup off, despite being far from the basket.
While he misses the shot, he sizes up his defender and gets to his spot in the lane for the jump shot. He excels at getting to spots he feels comfortable taking shots from, he rarely forces anything.
As seen in the two clips above, Pokusevski has demonstrated the ability to handle the ball in the pick-and-roll which is a rare talent for someone of his size.
His dribble is fluid, crafty, and he has a good ability to change pace and direction. He does well at getting to his spots in the mid-range and in the lane.
This is a fantastic read. He attacks to the right off the screen from Brown. With Reggie Jackson going over the screen and Serge Ibaka playing drop coverage to prevent the roll-man from being open, Pokusevski has all the space he needs to get the floater off.
Pokusevski endured a rocky start to the season. In his first 17 games, he averaged 3.3 points on a measly 24.7% field-goal percentage. But in early February he was sent down to Orlando where he participated in the G-League bubble.
This experience did wonders for him. It allowed him to develop his game with a larger role than what he had in the NBA. Upon return, it was immediately evident that he had improved since he last played for the Thunder. His shot looked smoother and he looked more comfortable participating in an NBA offense.
In the final 28 games of the season, he put up 11.1 points on 36.8% from the field. Now, this still isn’t anything incredible, but the fact that he made noticeable improvement over the course of his rookie year is a promising sign for his future development. With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander out injured, Pokusevski was essentially playing the point guard position. The Thunder already have a crowed guard position as is, but look to see him continue to get minutes as the primary ball handler next year.
Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault sung Pokusevski’s praises towards the end of the year. “To think about where he was at the beginning of the season and then the way he played now is a true, tangible example of a player developing,” he said.
His season was capped off with a 29-point performance, including 6-threes against the LA Clippers in Oklahoma City’s final game of the season. While Thunder fans weren’t thrilled about the damage this did to their lottery odds (that ultimately saw them fall to 6th), they were beyond pleased with Pokusevski’s performance and what this could mean for the future. Pokusevski is the youngest player in his draft class and won’t turn 20-years-old until December.
His ball-handling and playmaking capabilities are what impressed Thunder faithful the most this year. He is able to make quick reads and execute passes through tight windows. 7-footers that can pass the ball are all the rage right now, if the reigning MVP is anything to go off of.
There is no denying that there are many holes in his game that he needs to patch-up in order to reach his sky-high ceiling, but the natural passing ability is something you can’t teach.
On this play, he gets out in transition but the lob pass is off-target. He is able to corral the pass and save it from going out of bounds with the overhead flick pass. This is a demonstration of instincts that you don’t ordinarily see from someone so young.
Not quite as fancy as the previous example, but here is a more basic read and execution. The defense switches on the pick-and-roll and he finds Brown with the overhand entry pass into a tight window. As previously stated, Pokusevski is a proficient handler in the pick-and-roll which can be lethal at his size.
When it comes to shooting the ball, he’s shown the necessary flashes. He has an awkward shot form with a low set-point, but it showed improvement over the course of the season. Earlier on, he was essentially chucking the ball at the rim. But in the latter half of the season, it was much smoother and coordinated. While he shot just 28% from behind the arc, he had three games with five or more three-pointers made.
He’s able to hit threes off the dribble but was particularly impressive when moving off the ball and shooting it off the catch. 91.4% of his field goals from three were assisted. He did a great job running off screens and relocating himself behind the line for the shot.
He can be deadly for opposing defenses when he gets out into transition. Thanks to the combination of his speed and size, he excels at running the break for easy lay-ins.
The biggest concern surrounding Pokusevski remians obvious, it’s his weight. At just 190lbs, he is freakishly skinny. While he’s a crafty finisher, it’s ultimately going to be a struggle to finish inside the paint against stronger defenders when you’re not strong yourself.
Most expected him to get thrown around and bullied on the defensive side of the ball due to his weight, but it wasn’t as bad as anticipated. He wasn’t a positive defender by any means, but there were many instances of him using his length and lateral quickness to disrupt opponents on the perimeter. He also demonstrated potential as a shot-blocker, thanks again to his length, but also his impressive timing.
Pokusevski did not participate in the recent NBA Summer League, nor did he join the Serbian national team at the Olympic qualifiers. Reportedly this is due to the organisation not believing that it was the right route to take in his development, instead opting to put him on a weight-gaining plan.
Heading into his second season in the league, there are two key areas you would love to see him improve on. One being his weight and another being his shooting. If he’s able to tack on 20-pounds to his frame and improve his consistency from deep, you can expect a much better season from the youngster in a role that will most likely have him playing as a legitimate second option to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Currently, Aleksej Pokusevski is not much more than a popular NBA meme. But he wasn’t drafted by Presti with the expectations of being an immediate contributor in the league. If he can tap into his unlimited potential, there is no telling how good this guy can be. Plenty to be excited for down in Oklahoma City.