The Serbian Unicorn: Have the Thunder found their next star in Aleksej Pokuševski?

Oklahoma City Thunder Aleksej Pokuševski (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
Oklahoma City Thunder Aleksej Pokuševski (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images) /

The Oklahoma City Thunder are currently undergoing a massive roster teardown from its own roots, and Aleksej Pokuševski may be the team’s next gem. 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort look like really promising building blocks for Sam Presti’s vision for the Oklahoma City Thunder, and SGA himself looks like he has some definite serious franchise player potential.

Outside of those two, very few other pieces on the roster are likely long-term cogs for the Thunder.

Ty Jerome showed some serious promise as a sixth-man, bumping his shooting splits from 38/28/75 up to 48/42/76 splits. Sviatoslav Mykhaliuk, Kenrich Williams, and Isaiah Roby all had flashes of potential as second-unit guys.

Moses Brown got some serious extended minutes but really struggled to consistently score at the rim and rebound, making him expendable in a trade last week with the Boston Celtics to acquire Kemba Walker.

In terms of the other talent on the Thunder’s roster, one guy that comes to mind who people still are not sure of his true potential yet is one of the team’s 2020 first-round picks, Aleksej “Poku” Pokuševski.

Pokuševski was a relatively quiet name among basketball fans before last season when Pokuševski was assigned by Olympiacos to play for their second team, Olympiacos B.

During his 11 appearances that season, Pokuševski averaged 10 points, seven rebounds, and three assists per game on 40/32/78 shooting splits.

While those numbers may not jump off the stat sheet, it is important to keep the context of what those numbers mean in mind. First of all, last year was the 18-year-old Pokuševski’s first season playing professional basketball in his career, so struggles are to be expected. Secondly, Pokuševski is 7-feet tall and weighs roughly 190 pounds.

What I’m trying to say is that Pokuševski is a very skinny and lanky teenager with a body that is not ready to utilize the full potential of his lengthy frame yet. All of these traits are just adding to the lore that basketball fans are building of a player with the potential to develop into a basketball unicorn.

It was an up-and-down rookie season overall for the unicorn. Pokuševski’s true shooting percentage this season was just 43%, which ranks out to 369th out of 372 players, just ahead of Wes Iwundu, Killian Hayes, and Justise Winslow.

Pokuševski particularly struggled to score in two areas: the first is anywhere from the left side of the floor. The second is around the rim, where Pokuševski shot 41 percent true shooting versus 50 percent league average.

Until he gains more experience playing in games and adds on some significant muscle mass, it is going to be a daily challenge for Pokuševski to consistently put up points. However, the Thunder are going to be encouraged by Poku’s potential as a playmaker in the mold of Nikola Jokic.

Amongst his fellow rookies, Pokuševski is top 10 in nearly every passing metric. Tied for 9th in potential assists per game with 3.9, 11th in assist-points created with 5.6, and tied for eighth in passes made per game at 29.1.

For the Thunder, it was a tough season in terms of having concise ball movement leading to assisted baskets. Just 38 percent of all mid-range baskets for the Thunder were assisted, the fifth-lowest in the NBA and just 49 percent of all 3-point baskets were assisted, sixth-lowest among all teams in the association.

Depending on how the ping pong balls fall tonight, the Thunder may be getting another young cog that can help boost their passing game.

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For now, though, there will be a lot of eyes on Pokuševski, Gilgeous-Alexander, and Walker (for however long he is a Thunder player) to improve the ball movement of the team next season.