The NBA Draft has the potential to posses a haven of talent that teams hope will take them forward towards contention and, in the case of the lottery, toward better days than the last season threw at them. As for the players who are looking to enter the NBA fraternity, all they need to do is focus on their own situation and turn heads whenever possible (this, of course, is very much known but it’s important to set up this segue so shhhh...).
However, some players won’t have shown their full worth in their final season prior to the draft but will have hope to have shown enough intrigue to warrant a selection and, in some cases, earlier than expected selection. This is often the case when it comes to international players, who don’t always get the opportunity to show what they’ve got as the teams they’re currently with are already professional clubs who can’t always afford the liberty to play such players heavy minutes at the potential expense of the end result. As such, intrigue is increased as viewing time of said player can be limited, leaving much to ponder upon.
The Milwaukee Bucks took the gamble with the No. 10 overall selection in 2016, spending it on Thon Maker, and this is a classic example — perhaps one fueled by the Bucks’ success with the number 15 overall pick in 2013, selecting a certain Giannis Antetokounmpo — of an organization selecting perhaps not the most polished player in the moment he was drafted but had seen enough of an intrigue to take the plunge.
One of these selections paid off for the Bucks, the other one didn’t bear as much fruit. Both, however, were worth the swing, with the 2013 and 2016 being heralded — heading in — as drafts that... weren’t going to be spectacular.
There may be no other prospect who is more fascinating, more intriguing heading into the 2020 NBA Draft — a draft that isn’t held in the highest of esteems heading in — than 18 year old Serbian phenom Aleksej Pokusevski.
Pokusevski stands to be the youngest prospect to enter this draft, turning 19 on December 26th, meaning a few days in the other direction would’ve meant he wouldn’t have been eligible for the 2020 draft.
Next comes his physical profile. Pokusevski stands at 7’, a wingspan of 7’3 and a standing reach of 9’1 (all measurements per ESPN). He’s a little on the skinny side but we can get into that later. For now, just know the measurements and know they’re obviously very important — one of the aspects that make Pokusevski an intriguing prospect.
There are other aspects that make Pokusevski the most interesting prospect in this entire draft and his rise through the mock drafts in the last few months signify the rising interest in him, now viewed as a first round selection by many outlets
However, some outlets are still a little divided on where to mock Pokusevski but we’ll look at that at the end of today’s presentation.
There’s so much to discuss with Pokusevski and where he could be selected and his overall NBA stock but I think it’d be better to go through Pokusevski’s game and go from there.
Film of Pokusevski is fairly limited — he did not play a ton of minutes this season — but it doesn’t take long to see the hype and why Pokusevski has the intrigue surrounding him that he does.
Let’s start offensively, and Pokusevski’s numbers on the season aren’t going to blow you away.
Pokusevski averaged 9.9 points per game on 40% shooting from the field on 8.7 field goal attempts, 32% from three on four attempts per game, 78% from the free throw line on 1.7 attempts, seven rebounds, one offensive rebound, 2.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.7 blocks, 1.4 personal fouls and 1.7 turnovers per game, per Real GM.
What might stand out is Pokusevski’s large volume of three-point shooting. This will automatically turn heads given his size and the desire from teams to see shooting at that size. It will, more than likely, be the make or break for Pokusevski’s career as an NBA player, so it seems like a good starting point.
Pokusevski is not shy when it comes to launching from the outside, and that might be an understatement — he will not hesitate to fire.
In transition, Pokusevski calls for the ball and the second he receives it he launches the three-point attempt which is missed:
Now, with Pokusevski shooting 32% on four attempts per game, you’re going to have to expect more misses than makes here. He’s also not afraid to launch a three-pointer with a hand in his face — like I said, he will shoot.
After gathering a poor pass, Pokusevski shows no hesitation to pull up with a defender right there, his size helps with the confidence that he can just shoot over defenders:
From the out of bounds play, Pokusevski looms on the perimeter and finds himself open once the defender tries to intercept the pass. Pokusevski steps in and launches the open three-point which is, again, missed:
After receiving the pass, Pokusevski steps to his left and, despite the presence of the defender, launches the successful three-pointer:
Against Germany in the FIBA U18 Championship last year against Germany (yeah, that’s how starved everyone is for film but it’s still very useful), Pokusevski trails the play, receives the ball and immediately launches the three-pointer (electing to not even take a step closer to the line), which he hits:
On this play, Pokusevski makes the cut, receives the ball, attempts to thread the ball through the defender’s legs, whips the ball to wing (just about), relocates to the corner, receives the ball, dribbles to the extreme lengths of the corner, rises into a contested three-pointer and hits it:
Once Pokusevksi’s teammate puts himself between Pokusevski and his defender, Pokusevski shows no hesitation to let it fly, however, missing the three-pointer on this occasion:
Pokusevski, perhaps surprisingly, also attempted three-point looks off of the dribble.
Pokusevski comes over to set the screen, receives the ball behind the three-point line but drops it, luckily a teammate collects the loose ball and the ball is returned to Pokusevski. Pokusevski then comes off of the pick-and-roll and launches the three-pointer:
Let’s, briefly, move onto some second chance opportunities/offensive rebounds.
Pokusevski shows good effort on the glass on both ends, but on this possession he steams in from the three-point line and manages to create another possession coming out of bounds:
Again, Pokusevski begins the play outside of the three-point line and his size, length and, in some ways, his speed means he can get into the fray quick enough once the shot is released from three, and Pokusevski shows great energy and persistence on the glass even though his shot attempt is missed (and followed through by a teammate):
Moving on, Pokusevski is a lot more adept at handling the ball/attacking off of the dribble than one would expect of a seven footer, and it’s here that we’ll focus on next.
Off of the miss on the shot, Pokusevski grabs the rebound and takes the ball all the way — showing a decent turn of pace for his size — and scores the layup at the other end:
Behind the three-point line, Pokusevski takes his man off of the dribble and when the help defender rotates, Pokusevski adjusts his body and does very well to hit a tough shot near the rim:
After a missed shot at the rim — and after the ball is returned to him after the rebound was knocked out of hands — Pokusevski pushes in transition with pace, whips out a nice step to get by the stationary defense who has no choice but to commit the foul:
Pokusevski is just very confident in his abilities — he’s just comfortable with the ball in his hands. Take this play even, for example, as he shows his comfort to perform a behind-the-back dribble as he brings the ball up the floor:
Again, Pokusevski shows flashes of handling and comfort doing so similar to that of a guard (which he basically is at that size and position):
Pokusevski enjoys taking the ball up the floor in transition after a rebound (we’ve seen a few of these already) but Pokusevski arguably looks/finds his teammates more in these scenarios than score himself, and he has the touch and ability to set up his teammates.
We’ll look into that soon but, for now, let’s transition from offense to playmaking with Pokusevski’s abilities in transition/off of the dribble to find teammates.
After the miss, Pokusevski grabs the rebound and sets off in transition and finds his teammate streaking ahead with a nice pass, who draws the foul and free throws:
Again, off of the miss, Pokusevski collects the rebound and pushes in transition. He gets by the first line of defense — fluidly switching from his left hand to his right — and makes the pass after drawing the defense to his teammate who is fouled, resulting in free throws:
I’m going to cheat somewhat with this next one in that Pokusevski takes the ball forward in transition before giving it up. After a quick “screen,” Pokusevski receives the ball again and tries to go off of the dribble in the half-court. As he goes off of the dribble — from left to right — the ball hits his leg but Pokusevski gathers it and then fires a pass over the defense to a teammate who draws the foul near the rim:
After blocking this shot in impressive fashion at the rim, Pokusevski collects the loose ball and pushes in transition once again. With impressive speed, he gets to the free throw line and traffic but has the awareness to know there’s a teammate trailing, who takes one dribble to unlock the defense and draws the foul and free throws at the rim:
After the air ball miss towards the end of the shot clock, Pokusevski catches the air ball and is off to the races in transition once again. He initially leads with his left hand before changing direction and lead hand and then lofts a no-look pass to his teammate who hits the long-two:
For a little change of pace but still off of the dribble (sort of), Pokusevski receives the screen, the second defender commits and Pokusevski fires the pass inside for the assist at the rim:
You’ll have probably got a sense from some of these passes that Pokusevski has made but he just has a fine touch with the ball in his hands, he has the IQ and the touch.
On the missed three-pointer, Pokusevski takes the rebound and brings the ball up the floor. He initially looks as though he’s going to operate in the post but rifles in a bullet pass his teammate at the rim, who criminally misses (amidst the contest, to be fair) to deny Pokusevski the assist but finishes the second attempt:
After the miss from outside, the ball falls into the lap of Pokusevski and he floats a beautifully weighted ball forward in transition which his teammate runs onto:
It didn’t lead to anything directly but it was just a nicely executed pass from Pokusevski, showing his deft touch in a different situation.
Pokusevski is also comfortable making some extravagant passes too, such as this quickly thought behind the back pass to find his teammate and get the ball away from danger, where Pokusevski was being closed down after the awkward bounce:
This time, Pokusevski is stationed off of the ball and his teammate runs into a crowd and attempts to direct a pass towards Pokusevski. The ball bobbles to Pokusevski, who makes the first-time shovel pass to direct the ball to his teammate in the corner for the successful three-pointer:
We’ve looked at how Pokusevski can dribble using his left but he can also direct a pass with his left hand too, this possession showing as an example as he finds his teammate for a three-point attempt:
This isn’t really anything of significance but, hey, just add it to the collection — Pokusevski can work with both hands, that’s all I want you to takeaway here.
For more on Aleksej Pokusevski, including a detailed look at his defense and much more, click here for Part 2.