A couple of significant items of news have dropped for the Thunder in the last 24 hours.
Aleksej Pokusevski will be sent to the OKC Blue once their season begins and George Hill has undergone thumb surgery and will be reevaluated in four weeks.
Poku to Blue
The Pokusevski news is pretty surprising. The rookie has been playing well in recent games, averaging 4.3 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.3 APG and 1.3 BPG in 20 minutes of action in his last four games. The OKC Blue will head down to the Orlando Bubble and start their G League season on Feb. 8. The season is expected to last around six weeks with the Blue playing 15 regular season games.
The reaction to the news has been mixed. Some Thunder fans see value in having Pokusevski play more minutes consistently against a lower level of competition and believe this could help sharpen his craft and allow the young Serb to gain confidence.
Other Thunder fans see the Bubble as a potential risk for Pokusevski. If Pokusevski struggles against G League players, it could break his confidence and harm his growth as an NBA player.
If a team’s most recent first round pick is being sent to the G League in a rebuilding season, that is not a good sign. However, circumstances are obviously different with the COVID-19 pandemic. Pokusevski did not get Summer League or a full training camp to acquaint himself with NBA basketball. The G League season is only about six weeks long which will mean Pokusevski should be back with the Thunder before this season concludes.
The fact that the Thunder made this move a week before the G League season begins makes me think this was a premediated decision by the team. It makes no sense for the team to suddenly decide to send Pokusevski down to Florida with him playing a key role in the rotation.
Hopefully, this goes well for the team and Pokusevski returns to the Thunder a more confident and complete player. Joining Pokusevski will be Ty Jerome, who has missed the entire season up to this point due to an ankle injury, and two-way players Josh Hall and Moses Brown. Second round pick Vit Krejci was also named on the OKC Blue roster but will continue to rehab from his torn ACL that he suffered in September 2020.
Hill out with thumb surgery
The Thunder’s starting shooting guard will miss at least an additional four weeks after undergoing thumb surgery. Hill last played on Jan 24 against the LA Clippers and has been out of action dealing with a sprained thumb. This news sucks but it is not devastating.
The NBA trade deadline has been moved to March 25, which is seven weeks away. This gives the Thunder plenty of time to allow Hill to heal and return without feeling rushed if the team plans on trading him this season. Hill has been a steady hand in the Thunder’s starting lineup as he has averaged 11.8 PPG and 3.1 APG on 63.0 TS%. Hill is also shooting 38.6% from three on 4.1 attempts in 14 games.
Even with this injury, teams should not hesitate on trading for Hill. In his 13th season, the league should know what type of player Hill is and what he will bring to the team. He is a veteran who knows his role and can play both on and off the ball with his efficient outside shooting.
With Hill expected to miss at least another month, Theo Maledon should continue to start in his place. In four games as a starter, Maledon is averaging 13.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG and 2.5 APG on an absurdly efficient 79.7 TS% that will most likely come down. The starting experience will be beneficial for Maledon but I would like to see Head Coach Mark Daigneault stagger the minutes for him and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander so that one is on the court when the second units are on the floor. Since Maledon began starting games, the bench unit has gravely missed his playmaking abilities.