Pokusevski shows progress in first game back
Aleksej Pokusevski showed progress in his first game back with the Thunder in more than a month. It was the sort of progress the team hoped to see after sending Pokusevski down to the G League.
The 19-year-old rookie forward scored a career-high 14 points with eight rebounds and three assists in the Thunder’s 116-108 win against the Mavericks on Thursday night.
“It felt great,” Pokusevski said. “We got a win, so that’s the most important thing.”
Pokusevski wasn’t exactly eased in after returning from the G League bubble in Orlando. He logged a career-high 30 minutes Thursday and made his first NBA start.
Pokusevski shot 4-of-11 from the field, 2-of-6 from 3-point range and 4-of-4 from the foul line in what were the first free throw attempts of his career.
“I thought offensively tonight he looked like a guy that had played in NBA games before,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “He just let the game come to him. I thought the shots he took were great shots. He took them in rhythm. The passing, it was simple but it was really, really effective. I thought it was a really good baseline for him.”
Pokusevski made one of the biggest shots of the night.
Luguentz Dort drove the lane and kicked out to Pokusevski with less than a minute left. Pokusevski, who fired two airballs from behind the arc earlier in the game, swished a 3-pointer to give the Thunder a seven-point lead.
Pokusevski reacted with a fist pump, as did teammates Al Horford and Theo Maledon when the shot dropped.
“Just happy for him,” Horford said. “I feel like being down in the bubble helped him. He came out and he was very confident.”
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander agreed.
“Poku is so much more comfortable on the court,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “You can tell. I think going to the G (League) really helped him. His confidence is higher. He’s making the right plays in the right spots, and I think Poku had arguably the biggest shot of the night with the corner three.”
Daigneault noted Pokusevski’s marked improvement in the G League bubble, but it wasn’t obvious in the numbers.
Pokusevski shot just 31% from the floor and 27% from 3-point range in 13 G League games. He had a few highlight passes, but recorded almost as many turnovers (48) as assists (52).
“Guys back there in the G League were incredible with me,” Pokusevski said. “Teammates, coaches and staff, everyone helped me get confident and be comfortable with the ball.”
In 18 NBA games, he’s shooting 26% from the floor and 19% from 3-point range. He has 24 assists and 24 turnovers.
“I think the hardest balance for a team and for players, especially young players, is the balance between being aggressive and confident, but also being functional and investing in the offense and blending into the team and choosing your spots,” Daigneault said.
Daigneault said Pokusevski struggled to find that balance in his first month as an NBA player. But Thursday was a step in the right direction.
“He really helped the offense function with his screening, and his cutting, and his spacing and his early ball movement,” Daigneault said. “Those are the things that weren’t perfect down in Orlando, but certainly were improved upon from the first stint, and I thought really showed up last night.”