And the Thunder Select: Aleksej Pokuševski
With a bounty of draft picks from the 2019 Tradepocalypse summer, the Thunder will be scouting young prospects at the top of recruiting and draft classes once again. Daily Thunder will keep you informed on whether those players look like good targets for Oklahoma City.
|Projected draft class||2020|
|Projected draft age||18|
|Measurements||7’0″, 205 lbs.|
|Hometown||Novi Sad, Serbia|
Aleksej Pokuševski first started to garner attention after his performance during the U17 World Cup for the Serbian national team, where he averaged eight points and four blocks per game in only 20 minutes. Two years later, “Poku” is a projected first round pick after dominating the same Greek Second Division League that Giannis Antetokounmpo did in 2012-2013. It’s worth noting that Poku will be the only 18 year old draftee this October.
After initially ranking Pokuševski 22nd on my big board a couple months ago, I felt compelled to go back and watch him considering he possesses one of the highest ceilings in the entire class, to try and see what I’ve been missing. As of writing this piece, I have Poku all the up way at number 10 in this upcoming 2020 class and it’s with good reason. In a draft class this thin, players with elite level talents such as Pokuševski have the ceiling that far outweigh those of some of the other lottery picks in this class, even if Poku never reaches his full potential. At best, you’re getting a movement shooting, floor spacing big man who can handle the ball and pass like a guard, who happens to be an above average team defender and rim protector. At worst, you’re still getting a solid floor spacer and team defender who should be a contributing piece towards the end of your bench. That’s a gamble that I’m willing to take this upcoming draft.
Despite his height (7’0) Pokuševski is an incredibly fluid athlete when moving on the perimeter and with the ball in his hands. This fluidity and athleticism helps when he’s working off-ball to spot up or take a movement three, or even bringing the ball up in transition and leading the break (something he’s quite good at). Pokuševski had a 25 AST% compared to a 15 TO% for Olympiacos, making him a legit plus passer on the floor at all times.
One of the biggest attractions to Pokuševski’s game are the flashes he’s shown as a perimeter shooter. While the percentages haven’t been eye-popping (32 percent from three at Olympiacos + 26 percent at U18), the developmental curve that he’s on with increased reps and opportunities should stabilize that percentage for legitimate floor spacing (he also shot 75% from the line the past two seasons for Olympiacos, 69% from the line for the U18 Team). I’m no shot doctor or expert on shot mechanics, but his form looks quick, smooth, and compact which should easily translate to the pros. There also aren’t any hiccups in his shot when attempting an off-the-dribble three.
Pokuševski is everything you want as a modern day floor spacer. Not only can he hit trailing threes on the break, but he’s also a very capable movement shooter and potential OTD shooter as well. He has legit NBA range and a pretty looking shot and has even flashed some ability to relocate à la Steph Curry and other elite shooters in the NBA.
Poku is an incredibly smart player as well, which is not only evidenced by his impressive passing skill but also his ability as a team defender. For the most part, he’s able to flip his hips well on the perimeter and stay with quicker and smaller players (against lesser competition, to be fair) and he’s excellent at weak-side help blocks to protect the rim.
Although the vertical pop and explosiveness aren’t there for Pokuševski, he compensates in terms of rim protection and event creation on defense with his 7’3 wingspan and above-average instinctual ability. In 12 games for Olympiacos this past season, Pokuševski had a 8.31 BLK% and a 3.05 STL%. Since 2010, the only players who have met or exceeded those numbers at a high major college basketball program are Nerlens Noel and Paul Reed, per Bart Torvik.
Pumping the breaks
Pokuševski isn’t without his downsides. The biggest and most glaring flaw in Pokuševski’s game doesn’t have to do with his ability at all, yet his shyness from contact and slender build (lack of strength). At only 205 pounds, Pokuševski gets routinely bullied down low and in the post in addition to getting caught up in screens, something that you’re hoping an NBA strength and conditioning program will be able to take care of. While he may be a natural shot blocker because of his instincts and length, he may have a hard time defending traditional big men and might have to be relegated to the four where it’s possible he’ll have problems defending consistently away from the basket.
Pokuševski is also prone to his occasional lapses on defense, at times getting caught ball watching and losing his man.
His lack of physicality really hampers his finishing ability in the paint, and he’ll likely attempt most of his shots away from the rim at the next level (besides finishing plays) unless he becomes significantly stronger and seeks out contact more often. His FTr of .219 last season is mediocre and is an indication of his lack of strength and perimeter-orientated offensive game.
Making the pick
In ten years we could be looking back at the 2020 draft and wonder why so many front offices passed on Pokuševski. His career and what it could become might be entirely context dependent; if a team with a good developmental program hones in on his massive toolbox and brings his immense potential to light, we’re looking at most likely an All-Star level impact player. The movement skills and coordination ability for a seven footer are just too rare to pass up on, especially when you’re picking in the lottery.
For the Thunder (who currently own the 25th pick), there’s a possibility that Pokuševski will be available by the time they are on the board. ESPN’s latest mock from April has Poku going off the board at 28, and Sam Vecenie’s mock has him coming off the board at pick 26. If Pokuševski is on the board for the Thunder, they’d better continue what they’ve been doing for years: picking athletes with a lot of tools and upside. The difference in this selection would be tantalizing: Poku would be one of the only choices in recent draft history who already knows the game of basketball.