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Season Retrospective: Aleksej Pokusevski

Season Retrospective: Aleksej Pokusevski

Aleksej Pokusevski’s rookie season was one to remember.

Just months after moving to the United States, Pokusevski was playing meaningful minutes — and at times, starting — for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Things weren’t always great, but they certainly weren’t boring, either. It was hard to take your eyes off him while he was on the court, and he gave Thunder fans something to look forward to during the second half of the season while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was injured.

His 29 points against the Clippers on the final night of the regular season was an excellent way to end the 2020-21 campaign. He scored 20+ points five different times after mid-March, often with positive efficiency.

Here’s some of the positives and negatives from Poku’s rookie year:

Most exciting development

There’s a clear before-and-after mark of Poku’s season — when he was sent down to the G-League Bubble in early February.

Take a look at his splits…

  • Pre G-League assignment: 17 games, 3.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.2 apg, 24.7% fg, 17.9% 3-point
  • Post G-League assignment: 28 games, 11.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.7 apg, 36.8 % fg, 31.8% 3-point

His post G-League numbers still aren’t that of a quality NBA player, but he clearly made a big leap.

The game slowed down for him in the second half of the season. He made better passing reads and his jumper started to fall more often. He finished the season with 2.2 assists per game, but they were flashy — and it often felt like more than that.

Poku was surprisingly ahead of schedule on the defensive end. He came in with an extremely slight frame, and it was largely assumed that he would be bullied on defense. Instead, he showed a knack for being able to use his length and lateral agility to stay with drivers, block shots and make good closeouts. He still needs development on this end, but the starting point is better than expected.

Most importantly, his fluidity of movement is clearly going to translate on an NBA floor. That — and his passing vision — were his two most tantalizing skillsets coming into his rookie season. The fact that both look like they’re going to be effective is a huge plus for his future.

Most concerning development

While there were plenty of flashes to be excited about from Poku’s rookie season, the reality is that he’s not particularly close to being an effective NBA player.

Which, by the way, is completely fine. No one expected efficiency and production from Poku this quickly given the obstacles that he faced in Year 1. But next season, he needs to become more consistent as a scorer, passer, defender and teammate.

More specifically, I’d like to see improvement in his on-court body language. He pouted more than his fair share, and it was often after mistakes made by a teammate. That should improve with maturity — he’s still only 19 years old — but it does need to improve.

What this season will be remembered for

It’s too early to say what this rookie season will be remembered for.

If Poku hits, it’ll be remembered for the flashes of potential he showed throughout the year. If he busts, he’ll become another chapter in NBA meme lore.

But people are going to continue to pay attention because of what he did in Year 1. He was often the subject of a segment of national NBA shows and podcasts, capturing attention for his unique frame, incredible skill and his not-so-subtle mistakes.

We won’t have to wait long to see if Poku has made more strides. He’s on Serbia’s Olympic qualifying roster, which is set to play on June 23 against the Dominican Republic.