The Trail Blazers’ 2019-20 season is firmly in the rearview mirror and the 2020 NBA Draft is now on the horizon. As of now, the draft is scheduled for November 18. Unlike last year, the Blazers enter the process with two picks at their disposal. Portland currently owns the No. 16 pick in the first round and the No. 46 pick in the second round.
Today’s profile looks at Serbian big man Aleksej Pokusevski. The 18-year-old phenom has made waves after strong performances on the international stage and inside the Greek second division. Pokusevski is projected to fall just outside of the lottery on draft night.
- Height: 7’0”
- Weight: 201
- Wingspan: 7’3”
- Shoots: Right
- Position: F/C
- Age: 18
- Projected draft range: 17-25
*11 games (eight starts) in the Greek second division
- PTS: 10.8 | Per 36: 16.8
- REB: 7.9 | Per 36: 12.3
- AST: 3.1 | Per 36: 4.8
- BLK: 1.8 | Per 36: 2.8
- FG%: 40.4
- 3P%: 32.1
- FT%: 78.3
Blessed with the skills of a guard in the body of a true 7-footer, Pokusevski is a walking mismatch on the offensive end of the floor. The 18 year old puts his height to good use when he is tasked with directing the offense from the perimeter. Utilizing an impressive arsenal of flashy passes, Pokusevski routinely makes plays that are two steps ahead of the defense. When he isn’t creating opportunities for others, he uses his guard skills to weave around screens to get open. With the ball in his hands, Pokusevski has a smooth pull-up shot that is rarely found in players with his size. In pick-and-pop situations, Pokusevski has demonstrated that he can get into his catch-and-shoot motion quickly. If a defender closes out too hastily, he has the burst and ball control to get downhill effectively.
Defensively, Pokusevski’s fluid athletic ability and length project nicely to the NBA. Once his body develops, he has the potential to hold his own against a wide range of assignments. On the glass, Pokusevski is a natural rebounder with excellent instincts.
Many of Pokusevski strengths are currently theoretical or a work in progress, making the Serbian big fella one of the riskiest prospects in the entire 2020 NBA Draft class. A lot of Pokusevski’s film features him exploiting undersized competition in sparsely populated arenas. Even in those settings, Pokusevski’s efficiency numbers leave a lot to be desired. As of now, he lacks a dependable post game. That deficiency, along with his questionable ability to play through contact, forces him into too many low-percentage attempts.
The jump from the Greek second division to the NBA is massive. That step up in competition is going to be a problem on the defensive end of the court. Pokusevski lacks the anchor that is required for traditional post defensive and the change in speed could lead to serious problems if he is forced to defend in space. The size disadvantage that Pokusevski will face in the paint is more than enough to stymie his promising rebounding instincts.
Pokusevski posted modest numbers in 11 appearances with Olympiacos B in the Greek second divsion. In those performances out of the spotlight, Pokusevski blossoming professional upside earned him notoriety. That buzz was initially generated during the 2019 FIBA U18 European Championship. In seven games, Pokusevski dazzled on a competitive Serbian squad. Serbia claimed the top spot in group competition, but they were surprisingly knocked out of the tournament by Lithuania in the Round of 16. In that exit, Pokusevski led the team with 16 points.
Players with Pokusevski’s level of finesse at that size are truly rare. The “unicorn” title gets thrown around a little too often in draft circles, but Pokusevski’s blend of modern skills are worthy of that attention. That said, the 18 year old is a development project. In order for him to make an impact in the NBA, he must add to his frame. If he fails to do that, he will be targeted on both ends of the floor.
Teams interested Pokusevski will have to exercise patience. In a year filled with financial uncertainty, the potential to stash Pokusevski overseas for another season could make him attractive to organizations looking to pinch pennies. Outside of short-term savings, Pokusevski’s upside is staggering. His size-to-skill ratio is rare, even in NBA terms.
The fact that I even mentioned Pokusevski’s potential as a draft-and-stash option will have some Blazers fans pulling their hair out. At 18 years old, he fits the mold of an absolute boom-or-bust prospect. But the floor of Pokusevski’s profile might be too low for even Neil Oshley’s taste. In a best case scenario, it is likely that it would take a handful of years for Pokusevski to reach his lofty potential. That billing hardly fits inside the prime years of Damian Lillard’s career. His potential fit with the Blazers does shift considerably if another first-round selection is obtained by Portland. Pokusevski is the perfect prospect to balance out a draft class that features an additional player that fits on a win-now timeline.