Following in the footsteps of great international bigs like Arvydas Sabonis, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Gasol, 7-foot German forward Aleksej Pokusevski has the talent and skills to have earned a spot among the youngest projected draft picks in this age-limit era.
Before the likes of Kristaps Porzingis or Luka Doncic burst onto the scene and became-Star caliber players within the last few seasons, the stigma around European imports was that their play style and demeanor did not translate to the NBA.
But that stereotype is tired and has proven inaccurate for a while.
“The pace is a little faster now than it was, so I think it plays right into the hands of a skilled big or a skilled guy that comes over and can make plays off the dribble,” former Dallas Mavericks Nowitzki told SB Nation’s Brice Paterick.
“There were a lot more big guys in the league, and under the basket was more physical. And so the rules have changed over the years, and now it’s a lot more of what we do in Europe with screen and rolls, a lot more movement, five guys getting moving.”
With greater emphasis on pick-and-roll based offenses and the use of the three-point shot, players like Pokusevski have the opportunity now more than ever to immediately be an impact player.
Listed as 7’0”, 201 lb.with a 7’3” wingspan, Pokusevski has honed a unique guard-style skillset while actually playing the shooting guard position for the Olympiacos Junior and National teams. Averaging 10.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, three assists and nearly two blocks per game this season in the HEBA A2 league, he has displayed the capabilities to translate into a decent two-way big man at the next level, along with the measurables that allow him to guard multiple positions.
Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman had Pokusevski projected as the 18th overall pick in his latest mock draft and has this to say about the prospects potential draft board rise:
“It’s unusual to see a player at his height releasing pull-ups and jumpers off screens with such ease,” Wasserman wrote. “He wowed with his quick-decision, high-IQ passes. And though he lacks the strength to defend post-ups or anchor the paint, he possesses mobility and timing for protecting the rim from off the ball and the weak side.”
“If Pokusevski finds the right fit—a patient team with a strong player-development program—he could emerge as the draft’s biggest steal.”
Although some would consider it to be somewhat of a lazy comparison, Pokusevski’s play style and measurables mimic those of the aforementioned Porzingis, who former Knicks president Phil Jackson selected fourth overall in 2015.
Coming out of Liga ACB Spanish basketball league, Porzingis averaged 10.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 0.4 assists and a block per game during his final season with Baloncesto Sevilla. Porzingis may have been a better shooter—at about 47.1 percent from the floor in comparison to Pokusevski’s 40.4—but Pokusevski otherwise actually outperformed Porzingis in nearly every statistical category while also being two years younger.
Porzingis’ peak season came in 2017-2018 where, prior to suffering a season-ending ACL injury, he put up All-Star numbers in just 48 games. The Latvian “unicorn” averaged 22.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 2.1 blocks per game on 42 percent shooting from the field and 39.5 percent from behind the arc.
Not that Pokusevski is guaranteed to translate into an All-Star after just three seasons as Porzingis did, but the sample size is there that, as a taller, more polished offensive threat, he has the kind of upside that could put him on a similar career trajectory.
Tankathon (17th overall) and DraftSite.com (26th overall) both project Pokusevski to be a mid-to-late first-round pick by the Boston Celtics. With the departure of Al Horford to the Philadelphia 76ers and the trading of Aron Baynes to the Phoenix Suns last offseason, Boston has a huge hole at center so far during this now-suspended season.
Even with the signing of Enes Kanter, the in-house development of Robert Williams and the drafting 7-foot-6 internet sensation Tacko Fall, no player has stood out to win the job yet for a Celtics team that was suffering in the rebounding department (14th in rebounding percentage).
Among a stacked offensive starting lineup that includes Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward, Pokusevski fits right in as another piece among their overwhelming firepower.
As a proficient rebounding big that can stretch the floor and play off the ball, Pokusevski could step in as a rookie with the expectation to simply get buckets and boards. If he can provide the Celtics with anywhere between eight to ten points and seven or more rebounds, he could slide in as the missing piece that puts Boston over the top.
NBADraftRoom.com projects Pokusevski to go 20th overall to the Brooklyn Nets and join fellow 7-foot unicorn Kevin Durant. With Jarrett Allen primarily playing as a defensive stopper and 31-year-old DeAndre Jordan not getting any younger, Pokusevski could step in as an instant offense center.
With similar measurables and skillset, Pokusevski can learn from Durant how to take advantage of his size and become a scoring machine.
Same as if Pokusevski were drafted by Boston, big expectations will be thrust on him early. But that could be beneficial for an extremely young rookie in need of the right push to reach his maximum potential.
Pokusevski has all the tools to step in and be an impact player. As a prospect with lottery-pick caliber measurables, he may be a mid-first round selection for now, but he has the kind of upside that could propel him up draft boards as the 2020 NBA draft slowly approaches.
Hello, my fellow hoop fans! My name is Jalon Dixon, but my friends call me Jay. Basketball is a 24/7 obsession that I can never get enough of. Whether it be NBA, WNBA, college hoops, high school basketball or even AAU, I watch it all. My passion is to create conversation for the forever-growing basketball community. Expect a handful of hot takes, some mock drafts, player/team breakdowns and plenty of quality content. The recipe is the perfect balance of analytics, the eye test and a sprinkle of opinion just to show the writer’s inner fan. My motto is “Always embrace conversation”, so my DMs and inbox are always open for a fiery barbershop-style basketball debate or two.