Everything You Need To Know About Aleksej Pokusevski

Aleksej Pokusevski is the closest thing to a unicorn this draft offers. If he can get stronger and tighten up his defense, his offensive versatility could make him the biggest steal of the draft.

True love is a difficult thing to find. We see depictions on TV and in movies. If we're lucky enough, we see it within our family and find it ourselves. Every year, draft fans have their darling who they fall head over heels for. They blind themselves to the imperfections and warning signs that suggest a toxic relationship. This idealism and longing for what could be often lead to a disastrous breakup, but when the stars align, magic happens. Aleksej Pokusevski is this prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Pokusevski (we'll be using Poku going forward because it is easier for both of us) on the court looks like that kid in sixth grade who hit his growth spurt before everyone else but hasn't put on the weight yet. At 7'0 tall weighing 195 pounds with a 7'3 wingspan, Poku isn't your typical big man. He moves like a wing, protects the rim like a center, and shoots like a guard.

Poku has been one of the more difficult players in this draft to get a gauge on. If you only scroll Twitter and highlight packages, he looks like the next Kevin Durant. However, when you go through games and look who he is playing against, you realize that he gets away with a lot of carelessness that won't fly when he faces opponents who aren't wider than they are tall.

The film of Poku's games is frustrating because he is playing in the Greek second division, which looks like a pickup game at your local gym. We've seen success stories in the NBA of guys coming out of similar situations like Giannis Antetokounmpo. We've also seen numerous busts and guys who never even make it to the league. I'm not saying to disregard or diminish Poku's skills based on his situation. But, you must factor in his situation into what he gets away with vs. what he is excellent at.

A great example of this is when Poku is acting as a playmaker. Since he is more talented than every other person on the floor, he gets sucked into this fantasy where he sloppily tries passes and moves that end up in unnecessary turnovers. On the one hand, this is the exact environment where he should work on this stuff, but if it carries over to the NBA, his coaching staff will rapidly lose patience.

In the below clip, we see Poku initiate the fast break like he frequently does. As he crosses half-court, he lazily tries to dribble behind his back. He completely loses sight and location of the ball, turns it over, and allows an easy break going the other way.

Again, we see Poku's recklessness with the ball. He initially does an excellent job of crossing over the defenders but gets cocky with the ball. To avoid the second steal attempt, Poku tries to throw a flashy behind the back pass to his teammate closer to hitting the cameraman than his teammate. If he had used his length to throw a regular pass over the defender, his teammate would have had an open lane to the rim.

A lot of the time, Poku just needs to slow the game down, and his efficiency will skyrocket. He has the skills and vision to do this, which makes it so frustrating when he gets in the mindset that he's Pete Maravich.

The only bright spot of those clips is Poku's mobility and fluidity despite his size. When Poku plays within himself and can mentally slow the game down, he is incredibly impressive in the open court. He can create for others and himself, which is a rare skill for someone his size.

Here, we see Poku make the right read and a perfect pass in transition. The first notable thing from this clip is Poku's teammates use him as the outlet after securing the rebound. When a big man initiates the transition offense, typically, it is after he secured the rebound himself. As Poku brings the ball up, he veers towards the center of the floor. This decision attracts the attention of the other three defenders, which leaves his teammate unguarded. Poku then throws a perfect bounce pass to his teammate in stride for the relatively uncontested layup.

By not trying to do too much, Poku makes the correct play look easy. He does a great job of reading the floor, knowing how to suck in the defense and create open space for his teammate.

Poku's passing and vision are also useful in the half-court offense, as we can see here. He does an excellent job of attacking the sloppy closeout and gets in the lane with ease. His drive forces the help defender to rotate, but before he gets there, Poku shovels a perfect live dribble pass to his open teammate.

Most big men don't create like this. It can make the offense immensely more versatile as it keeps defenses on their heels. He allows the offense to be free-flowing and always helps make everyone a threat. If he can learn to reign in his carelessness, Poku could become one of his team's best playmakers.

Poku's mobility also makes him a capable scorer. He has excellent agility and consistent footwork, as we can see below. By initially setting a screen for the in-bounder, Poku creates a little space from his own man. He then runs off the floppy screen and quickly assesses what the right play is. Since his man is coming hard off the screen, Poku drives against the closeout instead of pulling up. After he jump-stops in the lane, Poku uses a subtle ball fake to send his defender one direction before spinning back the other way for the layup.

I know this isn't a world-class defense, but the way Poku moves and processes the floor is incredibly impressive. Seven footers rarely are run off screens and then used to attack off the dribble. He isn't a traditional post player, but he is very active on the perimeter.

The below clip is one of Poku's most impressive and head-scratching highlights. Poku initially makes an excellent cut from the top of the arc. As he drives, he inexplicably tries to dribble behind his back and through his legs. He luckily regains his composure and makes a kick-out pass to his teammate on the wing. Poku does a perfect job of relocating to the corner where he gets the ball back. Then, Poku takes a step-back three in the corner and drains it.

The confidence Poku shows in this play is equal parts inspiring and baffling. Regardless of competition or skill level, there aren't many players who would attempt everything Poku just did in the same play.

Poku only shot 32 percent from three this season on just over four attempts per game, but plays like the above suggest that he will improve. As we can see in the below clip as well, Poku has a consistent shooting form. His quick, high release will make him exceedingly difficult to defend, and if he can eliminate his exaggerated dip of the ball, his shot will only quicken.

Besides his fluidity and offensive versatility, Poku's length is another glaring asset. His range makes him an excellent rebounder with significant defensive upside. Poku's combination of length and mobility is devastating in transition defense, as we can see below. He shows great effort in both clips. First, by intercepting the ball over his shoulder and making a steal, he has no business making. Second, by chasing down the opponent and timing his jump perfectly to pin the ball against the glass.

Poku's length is also an obstacle for opponents in the half-court. He can disrupt passing lanes, protect the rim, and make perfect rotations. As we can see below, Poku's length helps him recover. Poku initially gets beat on the drive, but his teammate makes an ideal rotation to slow the ball-handler down. This rotation forces the ball-handler to pass back to his big man. As Poku retreats, though, he uses his long arms to jump the passing lane and steal it.

The main impact of Poku's size and length on defense, however, comes at the rim. He times his blocks well and is a significant deterrent at the rim. Here, Poku's opponents do an excellent job of getting an open look at the rim. As the play develops, though, Poku reads it well, makes the correct rotation, and easily swats the shot away.

The weakside rotation is something that many defenses rely on and something that many players completely miss. If not executed properly, it gives opponents easy chances at the rim. When a team has a roster of players who understand when and where they need to be is crucial for defensive success.

Despite Poku's height and length, his lack of strength is a significant negative for his rim protection. Against full-grown NBA athletes, Poku will get bullied in the post. He uses his length to compensate for rebounding, but stronger and more athletic opponents will move him with ease or elevate over him.

Here, Poku gives up a shot too easily. Poku initially allows a deep catch because he is unable to move his man out of the post. With one simple power dribble, Poku's man gets right under the rim for a shot despite being at least six inches smaller.

I know they miss the shot here but put Joel Embiid or hell, even Daniel Theis, in that spot instead. Not only are they not going to miss a bunny layup, but they are also going to dunk it so hard we may get an inadvertent reenactment of Shaq dunking on Chris Dudley. If you don't remember this, click the link, it is one of the most disrespectful things you'll see.

Poku can also be taken advantage of on the perimeter, as we can see below. Poku's man drives with absolutely no dribble moves, fakes, or creativity. Yet, he gets straight to the rim because Poku doesn't put up any resistance whatsoever. Poku allows his man to drive right past him and then doesn't contest the shot.

NBA players make this shot, and NBA coaches yank him for that poor of defense. Situations like these are when Poku should be sending back shots. I can forgive getting blown past by a quicker opponent, but not even attempting to block the layup of an opponent who is a foot shorter than you is inexcusable.

Right now, Poku is an excellent weakside shot blocker. He usually makes the correct read and uses his length to send shots back at will. His on-ball defense, however, needs a lot of work. Hopefully, NBA level coaching will help him lock-in, but until he adds muscle and general strength, Poku will get bullied in the post.

Quick side note on the muscle aspect. Poku will never be the muscle-bound seven-footer like Embiid or Deandre Ayton because he has a slenderer frame. If he adds too much muscle too quickly, he could easily hurt himself. It should be a gradual improvement for him, but it is a necessary one.

Going forward, Aleksej Pokusevski is the closest thing to a unicorn that the 2020 NBA Draft offers. He has a unique skill set rarely found in seven-footers. His mobility and fluidity are highly impressive and allow him to be a threat with the ball in his hands. He can initiate the offense, run in transition, attack off the dribble, or spot-up for three. He needs to improve his ball security, lack of strength, and defensive fundamentals, but he has a great foundation.

Aleksej Pokusevski could easily go anywhere throughout the first round. It wouldn't surprise me if a lottery team fell in love with his talent and takes him early. If he starts to drop past the middle of the first round, though, he could be the biggest steal of the draft.

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