A dazzling exit from the “bubble” for Aleksej Pokusevski | NBA
It is most certainly the surprise the Thunder this season. Barely 19 years old, the intriguing Aleksej Pokusevski has officially finished his first year in the NBA, while many observers imagined him continuing in Europe, just after his selection in 17th position in the last Draft.
Finally, the Serbian made the bet to stay in the NBA, on the side of Oklahoma, the leaders of OKC having recovered his rights only two days after the Draft. And despite his frail physique (2m13 for 86 kilos!) And far from being prepared for the ferocity of the battles in American snowshoes, the native of Belgrade has generally seduced, alternating the good and the less good, like any young rookie. who respects himself.
Read also: Aleksej Pokusevski, “the other” Thunder rookie
However, despite several difficulties encountered, the promising Aleksej Pokusevski can be delighted with one thing: his ability to persevere and hang on, at all costs.
» I’m proud that I didn’t slack off and gave up », He reported recently, in the columns of The Oklahoman. » I knew it was going to come eventually, that I just had to stay in my line and work. Every day, every practice and every game, I was trying to learn something new. «
A complicated adaptation, far from its benchmarks
Because everything was far from rosy at the start of the year for Aleksej Pokusevski, the youngest NBA player this season, in a way thrown into the lion’s den. Far from his native Serbia, where everything is completely different from the United States. In other words, a country that was still unknown to him when he arrived.
» It was quite difficult at first to get used to the NBA rhythm, sleeping in planes and hotels. He admitted in this connection. » Getting your body ready for the next game is really something I’ve learned to do this year. «
Obviously, these difficulties of preparation and adaptation have long disturbed Aleksej Pokusevski in his beginnings. A rookie who, like the other members of his cuvée, has not been able to benefit from a usual offseason, given the absence of Summer League and a shortened training camp.
Author of a simply disastrous start to the season, with 3.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.1 against average (in 17 minutes and 17 games), 25% on shots (!) And 18% on 3-points (!), the Serb therefore owed his salvation only to the arrival of the G-League “bubble”, specially set up in February, in Orlando.
» The first 10-15 games, I was content to just shoot, without even taking the time to read the opposing defense « , Confided the one who posted nearly 6 attempts to shoot (including 3 to 3-points), before the » bubble « of G-League. » But I mastered the game more after the G-League. This is where I started to actually read the game. […] And then it was more like ‘Catch the ball, shoot if you’re open, but don’t rush’. I’m a 2m10 player, so I don’t have to have that pressure to shoot quickly. «
After the « bubble », the mental click
From there, a click occurred in the head of Aleksej Pokusevski, who came back completely changed from his Florida escapade, despite still very average individual statistics in Orlando: 7.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.1 against average, at 31% on shots, 27% on 3-pointers and 57% on free throws.
Free throws, something that has just learned to get inside the Thunder in the « bubble », he who had not obtained any (!) In his first 17 games of the season, before draw 42 (for 31 successes) after his passage in G-League.
» There I improved in aggression, I knew I could get into the racket, attack the circle and get a foul, or find an open player », Confessed on this subject Aleksej Pokusevski.
Subsequently, the OKC nugget stepped on the accelerator, establishing itself as an important part of Mark Daigneault’s rotation. Evidenced by his 28 minutes average in 28 games (all played as a holder), after the « bubble ». Statistically speaking, the deal has also evolved, with 11.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, despite still doubtful percentages, but progressing: 37% on shots, 32% on 3-points and 74% on throws- frank.
One of the future bosses of the Thunder?
Sam Presti and Mark Daigneault, respectively GM and coach of the franchise, had therefore been right to push Aleksej Pokusevski to temporarily join the anteroom of the NBA, he who was anyway starting and voluntary.
» The coach had reunited me with Sam Presti », Remembered the Serb, concerning the moment when he was offered this opportunity. » Actually, I was expecting something like this, because I really needed to breathe. And I was happy, because I knew it was only going to be able to help and benefit me. […] I was traveling every day to a new city, a new hotel, a new hall. Everything was new to me, not just basketball. I tried to go step by step. So that’s really where the G-League has served me the most. «
Always irregular and expensive, the complete Aleksej Pokusevski however took the opportunity to achieve some big performances when he left the “bubble”. Like, for example, his match of 29 points (career record) and 8 rebounds against the Clippers at the end of May, his 25 points and 9 rebounds against the Hornets in early April or his nice double-double (23 points , 10 rebounds) against the Grizzlies in mid-March.
To read also: Aleksej Pokusevski, the future « great leader » of the Thunder?
With significant room for improvement, the former Olympiacos diamond will now have a whole summer ahead of him to strengthen himself physically and progress in his game, before starting his second campaign with OKC. Within a franchise that asks only to allow him to exploit all his qualities, alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.