San Antonio Spurs Draft: Aleksej Pokusevski fits the Spurs future

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 20: The first round draft board is seen during the 2019 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on June 20, 2019 (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 20: The first round draft board is seen during the 2019 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on June 20, 2019 (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JUNE 20: The first round draft board is seen during the 2019 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on June 20, 2019 (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JUNE 20: The first round draft board is seen during the 2019 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on June 20, 2019 (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Aleksej Pokusevski fits what the San Antonio Spurs need in the future

The San Antonio Spurs hold the 11th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. A selection of Olympiacos’ Aleksej Pokusevski would require long-term patience from the fan base, but he fits the Spurs mold. The 18-year-old from Serbia has gained significant traction during the 2020 NBA Draft process. With buzz circulating rapidly, and miles of untapped potential, Aleksej Pokusevski could be a hidden gem at pick number 11.

“Another foreign player?” That may be the reaction of many Spurs fans, but at pick number 11 Aleksej might be the best available option. What’s been deemed the “Spurs Way” of drafting, essentially stashing and banking on the progression of foreign talent in the draft, can be frustrating at times. But the Spurs should look into Pokusevski despite what many fans would argue isn’t the right thing to do.

The typical foreign intrigue that Coach Pop and Co. have consistently shown year in and year out in the draft process shouldn’t stop after last year’s selection of Luka Samanic. Pokusevski, like Samanic, won’t be an immediate year-one impact, but patience could be very rewarding for this organization should they select Aleksej.

Poku is one of the most intriguing prospects in November’s 2020 NBA Draft. The potential he has, should he reach it, his ceiling is off the charts. Comparisons of his potential to guys like Mavericks’ Kristaps Porzingis, and a floor of guys like Pelicans big Nicolo Melli, there is reason to be excited for the future of this 18-year-old.

While there’s both vast strengths and weaknesses to his game, he fits the San Antonio Spurs mold, and the team should be should looking into drafting the Serbian native in November.

Next: Aleksej Pokusevski's strengths

MIAMI, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 28: Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the Dallas Mavericks looks on against the Miami Heat during the second half at American Airlines Arena on February 28, 2020 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 28: Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the Dallas Mavericks looks on against the Miami Heat during the second half at American Airlines Arena on February 28, 2020 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Aleksej Pokusevski can do it all for the San Antonio Spurs

Poku’s game is still a long way from its final form. There are firm strengths and glaring weaknesses that must be addressed throughout his career. What’s most important here is that there’s a foundation for long-term success, and intangibles that he possesses that you cannot teach.

Pokusevski stands 7’0 yet possesses guard-like skills offensively. Not only is he a dynamic floor-spacer in the half-court, but he can read a defense well and quickly as your primary ball-handler.

Poku’s numbers while playing for Olympiacos were quite impressive. Appearing in ten games for the club, Pokusevski’s per-game averages were: 10.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.2 steals on shooting splits of 39.1-32.6-73.7.

Despite his field-goal percentage and three-point percentage not being immaculate, his overall shooting form and his touch from deep is evident and translatable at the next level. His actual jump shot, the fluidity of his jumper, his comfortability shooting the ball isn’t a question whatsoever. He’s a willing shooter, that has shown he can run off screens and is comfortable shooting the ball in catch and shoot situations, which leads to the tremendous upside as a pick and pop player.

He’s also shown great comfortability in situations where he has to create for himself off the bounce, he has a high release point, a quick release, and solid shot mechanics that’ll lead to improvements in efficiency clips with NBA coaching.

Aleksej continued to show growth in his game throughout every contest he played in not only for Olympiacos but also in the U18 FIBA European Championship. His play in this tournament was sensational, as he averaged 10 points, seven rebounds, 3.7 assists, four blocks, and nearly three steals per contest.

Rebounding is another strong suit of his. He’s a glass-cleaner, one that has excellent positioning skills and anticipation skills to grab boards on both ends of the floor, using his length and frame to clean up the boards for his team.

He is most comfortable with the ball in his hands at this point, with a staggering 27% USG rate for Olympiacos. He’s shown an ability to succeed as a passer in the pick and roll, even in short roll situations, and can make NBA-level passes off the bounce. His passing isn’t limited to just that though, as his vision and anticipation skills when driving to the basket give him strong upside as a passer in drive and kick situations, something he excelled at during his pro-days in Greece.

His handle and upside as a shot creator off the bounce are also noteworthy. He is a very fluid athlete with a mixed bag of rhythm dribbles, crossovers, and other dribble moves that can get him to his spot on the floor for jump shots, and even get him to the rack and dish to open shooters or make dump-off passes to bigs.

Defensively he’s shown great upside as a rim-protector due to his height and length, standing 7’0 with a wingspan of 7’3 and a standing reach of 9’1. He averaged plenty of blocks in both his days at Olympiacos and in U18 play, so the potential is there and the results have shown as well.

As a team defender, he has shown the ability to make plays off the ball, playing passing lanes very well, and rim-rotate at a timely effort. His anticipation on the defensive end of the floor has shown to be adequate.

And lastly, he has the body traits for immense defensive versatility and switch-ability. His footwork in transition and isolation defense situations isn’t quite up to par, but he has some stretches where you see there’s plenty of foundation to build on.

Next: What does Poku need to work on?

Luka Samanic of the Austin Spurs dribbles up the court during the 2019 NBA Summer League. (Photo by Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Luka Samanic of the Austin Spurs dribbles up the court during the 2019 NBA Summer League. (Photo by Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images)

San Antonio Spurs draft Aleksej Pokusevski is still far from a finished product

Above all, the glaring weakness for Pokusevski isn’t anything on the court, it’s with his body. He’s in a very similar situation to what Luka Samanic was in last year. Poku weighs 200 pounds, and like many young players that come to the NBA, will have to work hard on filling out his frame before he’s ready to contribute. If Poku wants any chance to succeed long-term or become anywhere close to his ceiling, he must put the weight on once he joins his team.

While he’s shown to be a solid rim-protector with high-level upside as a rebounder, his frame issues are very concerning. This will likely put him at a disadvantage in both rim protection and rebounding at the next level, unless he has immaculate positioning, awareness, and anticipation skills, guys will simply out-muscle him in both aspects leading to early foul trouble and inconsistency.

His effectiveness in defending post-ups isn’t where it needs to be. He’s too easily backed down or bumped off his path on both ends of the floor. Additionally, his screen setting effectiveness on offense is also lacking a bit.

His ability to contest shots off the bounce and his consistent close-out effort are underwhelming as well. Poku gave up a staggering 1.3 points per possession when defending in catch and shoot situations which is way below average. He tends to ball-watch on defense at times and can be a hair late in rotations on the perimeter despite perimeter defense being his strong suit on that end of the floor.

At the point of attack, he relies on his length to bail him out defensively when he’s beat. This has led to his footwork on defense not being where it needs to be. He tends to be too upright in isolation scenarios, which leads to him getting beat immediately off the dribble, or getting bumped off when drove to the basket. This usually ends in giving up easy layups or fouling the opponent.

Offensively while there’s a ton to work with, his ability to finish at the basket isn’t up to par either. He finished around the rim at a clip of 42.3 percent, which is way below average even for overseas standards.

His touch around the basket isn’t all there, he isn’t entirely comfortable finishing at the rim. He looks to pass when driving to the basket primarily. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but one you’d like to see him be more aggressive near the rim.  But his finishing is made even more difficult by his tendency to lean too much on his right hand throughout a given game.

So many of his weaknesses stem from actual weakness. Once he fills out his frame with some muscle he should be able to be more aggressive inside and hold his own in the post on both ends of the floor. He’s got sky-high potential but it’s hard to see him reaching his ceiling if he never adds the weight he will need to survive in the NBA.

Next: What does his fit with the Spurs look like?

Why the San Antonio Spurs should draft Aleksej Pokusevski:

Frame issues aside, the potential is there when it comes to the 18-year-old prospect from Serbia. You can’t teach being seven-feet tall coupled with a handle and a three-point shot.

The fit for Poku is obvious, easy, and seamless when you think about it. At his floor, he is a floor-spacing big that gives you solid playmaking ability on the offensive end in a variety of ways. For a Spurs offense that desperately needs shooting, that has obvious spacing issues from its big men, as well as shot creation issues, Poku has the potential to boost those aspects positively with time. The foundation is there with plenty to build on, you just have to give this 18-year old some time. Considering the Spurs won’t be contending anytime soon, now is the time to do it.

The passing ability and upside he’s shown as a willing passer at such a young age are mouthwatering from an organizational standpoint. Providing him with excellent coaching from people like shooting Coach Chip Englland to the nitty-gritty X’s and O’s of the NBA from Gregg Popovich, the Spurs can be in a really good place with Aleksej in a couple of seasons.

He provides instant upside and production in catch and shoot and pick and roll situations. Considering the Spurs primary ball handler‘s all excel in either pick and roll situations or using the drive and kick, that fits perfectly into his strong suits as an offensive player at this point in his very young career.

With the San Antonio Spurs excelling on offense using a variety of half-court motions to spring open shooters, or even in pick and roll situations, Poku is a perfect fit for the offense. Even with some time playing small forward, Aleksej can succeed in a plethora of roles for this team.

He has shown leaps and bounds in overall production and improvement from game number one of his professional career. With NBA level coaching and nutrition, he can only get better.

While he likely won’t be a generational foreign big man like Nikola Jokic or even a fringe top-20 player like Kristaps Porzingis, he can be a core member of your franchise for seasons to come.

What he has going for him is that he has a strong IQ and feel for the game and can shine once he learns NBA concepts on both ends of the floor. Patience will be the key virtue here, the coaching will pay dividends for the future of this young man.

Next. San Antonio Spurs Best Draft Picks Since 2014

Many San Antonio Spurs fans won’t like to hear that they might have to be patient with this pick, but it’s in the best interest of both parties. There is real upside here, and at pick number 11, being late in the lottery, you might as well swing for the fences considering this is the team’s first time back in unfamiliar territory.

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