They grow up so fast. It feels like just yesterday we were marveling at rookie Aleksej Pokusevski as a statistical oddity with some intriguing skills and a long way to go towards channeling them into productive NBA play. Then in mid-March he entered the opening lineup of an Oklahoma City Thunder team content to get blitzed on a nightly basis: They’ve lost by over 20 points in eight of those 15 games he’s started. But! Poku has also scored over 20 points in four of those contests. He’s averaging 13 points, six rebounds, and three assists, and shooting 36 percent on threes; his true shooting of 50 percent is up from the bloodcurdling 30 precent he put up as a reserve. The NBA’s youngest player might still be getting acquainted with his own limbs, let alone the athleticism of an NBA defense, but he can already do this:
When watching a player this raw, all I look for are those glints of possibility. Does he resemble, for a stray second here or there, a fluid and intuitive NBA player? Here it must be conceded that this damn Poku is shining like a diamond. Game after game he flashes shooting touch and footwork and playmaking difficult to reconcile with the reality that he is a 7-foot-tall 19-year-old plucked out of the Greek second division. Try not to be distracted by the scoreboard carnage in his highlights and just watch how comfortable the No. 17 pick looks in the flow of the offense. You can’t name a team in this league that wouldn’t make room for a towering floor spacer who can shoot on the move—certainly one who can put the ball on the floor, change directions mid-drive, and live-dribble pass. There’s a little bit of everything in this guy. Put him on an IV drip of fusilli and he might even be able to finish through contact some day.
While the record will reflect that I wanted my accursed team to pick this man at No. 8, even this optimist figured he’d be dysfunctional out of the gates and slow to work up to NBA speed. (My doctor has advised me not to visualize a Poku/Julius Randle/Mitchell Robinson frontcourt for any reason.) All my cautious optimism has since been replaced by a raving demand to run every possession through a man who belongs in the lot of a car dealership, flailing in the breeze. He makes an excellent co-pilot for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on a team that will be churning through a platoon of draft picks in the coming decade to find its other dudes. Interesting time to be a Thunder fan! I wouldn’t dare watch your entire games but I will continue to watch your Poku. He’s a star. There’s no mistaking it:
“I’m so sorry, I gotta keep it secret,” he deadpanned when asked to reveal its contents.