Aleksej Pokusevski 'very excited' to land with OKC Thunder
Aleksej Pokusevski had been connected to the Thunder prior to the NBA draft, but Pokusevski wasn’t predicting where he would land.
“Before the draft we didn’t have any contacts,” Pokusevski said. “I didn’t talk to anyone. I was shocked that I was chosen at No. 17 and drafted to OKC. I was shocked. I didn’t know that it was going to happen, and I was very happy about it.”
Pokusevski arrived at Thunder training camp this week, and he met with local media Thursday for the first time. The 18-year-old Serbian native, who played professionally in Greece since he was 13, is still settling into his new city.
“Guys from the club are perfect,” Pokusevski said. “Great guys. They are warm. It's like a family.”
General manager Sam Presti traded up on draft night to select the 7-foot center who plays more like a guard. The Thunder, in a three-team deal with the Timberwolves and Knicks, sent Ricky Rubio and the No. 28 pick to Minnesota, and the No. 25 pick to New York.
Oklahoma City received James Johnson, a 2024 second-round pick, and most importantly, the 17th pick in the draft.
That’s where Pokusevski was picked.
Pokusevski, who won’t turn 19 until Dec. 26, said he was equally shocked at the slot where he was selected, and the team that selected him.
- Related to this story
- Article: OKC Thunder: Darius Miller nearing return from Achilles injury
- Article: OKC Thunder: Seven takeaways from first-half schedule of 2020-21 NBA season
- Article: OKC Thunder 'clearing the way' for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to lead
- Video: Thunder Update: Presti on roster changes and new season
“I had expectations of first round, but I didn’t know it was going to be first 20,” Pokusevski said. “And then OKC showed up there. We were very excited.”
Pokusevski and the Thunder should be a natural fit given their similar timelines.
Listed at 7-foot and 190 pounds, Pokusevski will need time to develop. The Thunder, heading into Year 1 of what figures to be a lengthy rebuild, has no incentive to rush its first-round pick.
“They are a team that has a process all the time,” Pokusevski said. “They have a great history with young players.”
Pokusevski seemed prepared when asked about his physical readiness to play in the NBA.
“Everyone says that I'm weak or stuff like that,” Pokusevski said. “I'm just trying to work on everything, being physical on the court, and being tough are some of the main things. Just getting stronger, being every day in the weight room and just work there.”
That could be the key to unlocking the tools Pokusevski possesses. He has a 7-foot-3 wingspan and a 9-foot-1 standing reach, yet NBA draft experts gushed about his ball handling, passing and perimeter shooting.
But Pokusevski is far from a proven prospect. He primarily played for Olympiacos B in Greece’s second division. He averaged 10.8 points and 7.9 rebounds last season, shooting 40% from the floor and 32% from 3-point range.
“He has a rare combination of attributes,” Presti said. “Does that mean he's going to equate into being a very good NBA player or an effective NBA player? We don't know the answer to that.”
Presti said it will depend on how much Pokusevski is willing to work, and if he buys into the team’s plan.
“I have no reason to think he won't,” Presti said. “But working with Mark (Daigneault) and his coaching staff, you just can't skip steps in development. There's no way around it.
“You're going to need some opportunity … because opportunity is where you learn where your deficiencies are, limitations are, and where you experience failure. Failure is the engine to improvement.”
It’s too early to say what Pokusevski’s role will be as a rookie.
Training camp started Tuesday, but so far players have been limited to individual workouts. Team practices won’t begin until Sunday at the earliest.
The whole offseason has been condensed, giving rookies less time to adjust.
“We’re just not gonna rush to any conclusions with a player like him, that’s as young as he is and that’s game can go in a lot of different directions,” said Daigneault, the first-year Thunder coach. “He’ll be in camp, he’ll go through the drills and compete and learn, and we’ll figure out where his starting point is.
“And even when we know that, it’s not predictive of how his career will unfold.”