Aleksej Pokusevski - Olympiacos
Aleksej Pokusevski is just the latest Serbian player to demonstrate the well-rounded skillset and high basketball IQ that’s often found among European prospects.
Last season, Poku (as he’s commonly called) became the youngest player in Olympiacos’ history to debut in the EuroLeague. However, he was then shuffled around between Olympiacios’ reserve team (Olympiacos B) and the senior’s team practice squad, missing multiple games with knee injury.
In his time playing with Olympiacos B, Pokusevski demonstrated the time of versatility that’s en vogue in the NBA, leading to him becoming one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft.
Age: 18 (born December 26, 2001)
Weight: 201 pounds
Pokusevski is a fluid athlete whose shown the ability to make plays at power forward, often stepping out onto the perimeter to make a play. He also has the length and potential as a rim-protector to be a factor at center.
With a 9’1” standing reach and solid instincts as a shot-blocker, Pokusevski impacts shots around the rim with his mere presence.
Not to say Poku is the Joker when it comes to passing but he has an incredible feel for the game and a soft passing touch that you won’t often find with a plyer his size. He has the chance to be a solid playmaker at the next level when operating from the low-post, high-post or pick-and-roll.
Poku with the lefty behind the back pass in transition. Just silly. pic.twitter.com/JeSDr3LnX7— Corey Tulaba (@hardwoodherald) August 25, 2020
High Basketball IQ
Pokusevski has demonstrated a great understanding of the game on both ends of the floor, which should accelerate his development. It’s not out of the ordinary to seem Pokusevski initiating the offense or running the pick-and-roll as the ball-handler.
Potential as a perimeter threat
Although Poku has a nice touch when he’s shooting from outside, it’s the fact that he has the ability to attack closeouts off of the dribble and create shots from himself with a decent handle that helps make him a triple-threat with the ball in his hands.
Normal things 6'11 players can do, again, featuring Aleksej Pokuševski.— Spencer (@SKPearlman) July 1, 2020
Off movement, pump fake, 1 dribble right, 1-2 stepback, 3 pointer. pic.twitter.com/RPgHZuKwR1
Lack of physical strength
Due to his slight frame, Pokusevski lacks physical strength and that can cause him to get pushed around by larger centers on either end. It also causes him to have trouble scoring through contact.
Lack of lateral quickness
Because he has a high center of gravity, Poku’s lateral agility leaves something to be desired as he can’t turn his hips as quickly as would be ideal when guarding on the perimeter. In order to turn that positional versatility into a reality, Poku must improve that lateral quickness.
Projected Draft Range: Mid-to-late first round
Denver Stiffs Big Board: 16th overall
NBA Comparison: Kristaps Porzingis-lite/Dragan Bender
Mock drafts have recognized the rise in Poku’s draft stock, as he’s unilaterally seen as a first-round prospect. The Athletic and The Ringer have Pokusevski being drafted in the 10-20 range (The Athletic had him being taken 18th and the Ringer at 12th).
There’s no reason to question him being taken by the late first round, as he’s demonstrated highly valued skills that should translate to the NBA if given the opportunity to develop them.
Why Pokusevski makes sense for Denver
Whether you’re looking at Nikola Jokic, Bol Bol or Jusuf Nurkic, the Nuggets have clearly shown an affinity for dynamic — and foreign-born — big man prospects.
Pokusevski would become the latest in a long line of talented big men drafted by Denver, and though there would initially appear to be overlap considering that he, Jokic and Bol are all at least 7’0” tall, both Bol and Poku have shown a little positional versatility in their games. This is a trend with multiple players in Denver’s scheme, as Jerami Grant and Michael Porter Jr. can also play at least two positions. The collective versatility is what may create space for Poku in Denver’s rotation.
In the future, at least.
I say future because although Pokusevski is a tantalizing prospect, he still needs considerable physical development and to answer questions about his defensive intensity. He’s unlikely to find minutes in Denver’s frontcourt rotation and could become the prototypical draft-and-stash prospect for the Nuggets, gaining experience and becoming a better player in the EuroLeague and having the potential to come to Denver at the right time.
Why Pokusevski doesn’t make sense for Denver
There are going to be some that believe the Nuggets should use their first-round pick on a player that can provide immediate help now or if needed and that’s a rationale line of thought.
However, there’s going to be a quick turnaround between the 2020 NBA Draft and opening night of the 2020-21 season. In between those one to two months, there’s unlikely to be a Summer League and the 2020-21 G League season may be canceled as well. To sum it up, it’s going to be more difficult for prospects to transition into the league.
That might mean, for a Nuggets team with championship aspirations, that adding a player that’s readymade for the NBA at a position of greater need could be more enticing. The logjam in the frontcourt is difficult to make sense of, and adding Poku to the mix might make it more difficult for the Nuggets to capably develop all of their unicorn prospects.
Although there are players who will be less affected by the circumstances than others, having the foresight to draft a player who can develop and become an integral piece of your rotation in two or three seasons is how an NBA dynasty would remain in control (see: the San Antonio Spurs).
Could Poku become that player for Denver in the 2020 NBA Draft to add additional talent to the Nuggets roster? It’s possible, and the excitement of bringing in another Serbian big man to play next to Jokic is a great story in it of itself.
The Nuggets have always drafted for talent, and Poku appears to be a very talented prospect. If he’s on the board when the Nuggets select at 22, it would surprise no one if they took the young Serbian.
How would you feel if the Nuggets drafted Aleksej Pokusevski?
This poll is closed
Great! That’s good value at 22 and feels an immediate need
Good. Not exactly what they need but could help in a playoff series
Fine. A decent flyer but he’s not going to contribute next season
Bad. He shouldn’t be selected this high and doesn’t fit the team’s needs