The NBA G-League season kicked off on Thursday in a bubble environment similar to the one utilized by the NBA last summer.
The Oklahoma City Blue will be there, and joining them will be the international man of mystery Aleksej Pokusevski.
Poku, Oklahoma City’s sole first round pick in the 2021 draft (after OKC packaged two first round picks to move up to draft Poku), had been getting steady minutes with the Thunder prior to the announcement he would be joining the Blue.
Some Thunder fans are no doubt disappointed to see their first round pick heading down to the G league instead of continuing with the main squad, but it may just be the perfect thing for him. Pok has struggled mightily so far in the NBA, scoring just 3.3 points a game.
His shooting splits are 24.7%/17.9%/N/A, as he has played 296 minutes without attempting a free throw. Beyond the scoring woes, Poku has a negative assist to turnover ratio (barely; 21 assists vs 22 turnovers on the season) and has struggled defensively.
Let’s take his issues in reverse. Poku’s defense was always a lost cause this season - he occasionally gets blocks due to his height, but at just 200 pounds spread over a 7-foot frame, Poku isn’t strong enough to guard NBA forwards. Only time and body development are going to improve him on that end.
It’s on the offensive end where Poku should get a chance to shine in the G-League. As mentioned, Poku has been doing the opposite of lighting it up from beyond the arc this year, but his self-belief has never wavered. Some slumps are just the result of a guy losing confidence. That doesn’t seem like the case for Poku:
But whatever the cause, the best way to break out a slump is just to shoot your way out of it. The problem was since he was a non-entity on defense, Poku wasn’t going to earn more minutes until he started hitting shots. In the G-League, Poku will presumably be given a lot more minutes and shots each game, and against lesser defenses - the perfect circumstances to break out of a slump.
The real reason for excitement, however, is that Poku will be given more chances to handle the ball and make plays. The side of the box ad for Poku in the draft was “7 footer with shooting and guard skills”.
Between Mark Deignault’s equal opportunity offense, his limited minutes, and Poku’s occasionally looking like a lost rabbit out there, he got precious little chances to make things happen with the ball in his hands. That’s probably for the best because while Poku occasionally flashed the spectacular:
He equally often flashed the disastrous:
The only way to get more of the good plays and less of the bad is reps, reps, and more reps.
True, NBA reps are more valuable than G-League reps, but even on an OKC team that is in rebuilding mode, Poku was unlikely to get more than the 17-ish minutes he was getting (his play did not warrant any additional minutes, certainly).
Poku is also very, very young, having just turned 19 at the start of the season.
G-League reps are less valuable the older and more experienced a guy is, but Poku is still a lot earlier in his development than the average first round pick.
At his stage of development, a high quantity of reps is more valuable even against a lower quality opponent.
At this point, Poku remains mostly a mystery box. He could be a bust, he could be the next Giannis or Kevin Durant.
His 17 games so far have been enticing, but do little to tell us more about what kind of player he’ll be long term. By the end of the G-League bubble, we may start to have a better idea.