ALEXSEJ POKUSEVSKI IS _____________?
Young and raw? Good for reaching objects that are high? A future shot blocking machine?
An incredible dancer? Bringing back the fanny pack? Not going to pan out?
A simple yes could be applied to all of the above, but the true answers to the more important questions will have to wait. The one thing we know for sure right now is that Pokusevski will be taking his talents to the G-League Bubble where he will join the OKC Blue developmental team.
There should be no qualms about the decision to send Poku down as it should be viewed as an opportunity for the rookie to get more acclimated and comfortable to the American style of play in a not-as-bright light environment. With no summer league play and a shortened off-season, there was little to no choice but to throw Poku into the deep end to start his NBA career.
After 17 games, it’s safe to say that the young Serbian definitely needs to learn how to swim better before going back out there with the sharks.
Far From Home
Being 19 years old and 5,000 miles away from his home country requires a bit of leeway and patience for Pokusevski. It’s not fair and way too early to declare him a bust but so far the positionless rookie hasn’t displayed enough otherwise to consider him anything but a project.
It’s no secret Sam Presti had been courting Poku for years so there must have been something special he saw in the young man enticing enough to move up in the draft to select the European prospect. Whatever that was, it has yet to be displayed in the early stages of his career where Poku has averaged just 3 points a game while shooting a dismal 24% from the field. In 17 minutes per game, Poku also suffered through a player efficiency rating (PER) of 2.78 which is third worse on the team.
The Pokumon also has yet to attempt a free throw during the infancy of his NBA career. Meaning at first impression it appears OKC has drafted a 7-footer who is uncomfortable taking contact and or going to the basket. With Pokusevski’s slender-man frame, it makes sense he prefers to play outside the paint but that quickly became counter productive when the highly touted shooter suddenly became unable to make a basket, especially from beyond the arc where he is 10/56 (17%).
Cause For Hope
With all that said, the intention here is not to bury a 19 year old kid trying to figure things out in a foreign country, but to assess exactly what the Thunder have in their investment they made with the 17th overall pick in the draft. Despite all the areas that need immediate improvement, there are some positives to build off of Poku’s short run in the big league.
To start, the movement and footwork of the seven footer has been impressive. Add to that his ability to handle the ball and run the court with finesse should be viewed as a rare find for a player of that size. Also, wing-span can not be taught, as Pokusevski’s length is always going to make it difficult for opposing teams to get shots over his outstretched arms.
Poku leaves the Thunder as the teams leading shot blocker with 19 total, averaging just over one per game. Lastly, the scouting report on Poku going into the draft emphasized and highlighted his high basketball IQ. Hopefully that will only continue to grow as does his strength and build with the three eventually meeting in the middle down the line.
As we journey through this rebuild, there must be trust in the coaching staff and patience with the developmental system the Thunder organization has in place. In most cases when it comes to these southeastern European players, there is always a 1-2 year learning curve and trial run before knowing if they are going to stick or not. For instance, in his first season in the Association, fellow Serbian and then 20 year old Nikola Jokic could barely make it up and down the court. Six years later he is now a legitimate MVP candidate.
On the flip side, in 2003 Darko Milicic was drafted 2nd overall ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade and OKC LEGEND, Nick Collison. Darko went on to average 6 points and 4 rebounds in nine seasons and is widely considered one of the biggest busts of all time. There are countless other examples similar to those two players, and while the discrepancy between Pokusevski, Jokic, and Milicic might be extreme, these instances just goes to show how much of a crapshoot evaluating European talent can be.
Will Alexsej Pokusevski be in the league 3 years from now?
Is a legitimate question but hopefully a discussion that will not have to be had anytime soon or ever. Until then, it’s important to take into account the information we have and dare I say trust the process.
Poku’s Bubble performance is going to be a key component to his development and an opportunity for an invaluable learning experience. Maintaining the right perspective will be everything moving forward during the Poku experiment.
As far as an answer to the question proposed at the top? Perhaps it’s best we just keep it empty.
For now, Alexsej Pokusevski simply just is.