A Spurs season ended without a postseason appearance for the first time in more than two decades, but San Antonio has many reasons to be optimistic heading into next year. The young core led the Silver and Black as one of the best teams in the league restart, and adding a lottery level talent to the roster should only increase their chances of rejoining the playoff picture in 2020-2021.
Devin Vassell, Deni Avdija, Isaac Okoro are among the top candidates in the 2020 Draft Class, and PATFO would be thrilled to acquire any of those guys on draft night, but what happens if they aren’t available when the Spurs step up to the plate? While fans might turn their noses up at the idea of another project player like Luka Šamanić, choosing based on the ceiling isn’t the worst idea for a small-market franchise known for maximizing overlooked prospects.
Aleksej Pokuševski | Olympiacos | Frontcourt
Weight: 201 lbs
Stats (12 GP)
Per Game: 9.9 PPG/7.3 RPG/2.8 APG/1.2 SPG/1.7 BPG
Per 36: 16.7 PPG/12.2 RPG/4.8 APG/2.0 SPG/2.8 BPG
Shooting Splits: .400 FG%/.321 3P%/.783 FT%
Aleksej Pokuševski is an incredibly gifted, albeit somewhat unpolished, offensive prospect with the ceiling to become a high-level floor-spacer who can create shots for both himself and teammates. Although he shined in Greece’s second division at just 18-years-old, the Serbian seven-footer would be best-suited falling to a franchise with the patience and developmental system in place to allow him a few seasons to ready himself for NBA competition.
Pokuševski possesses extraordinary mobility and fluidity, and though he lacks the strength to go toe-to-toe with genuine bruisers, his guard-like skill set distinguishes him from other frontcourt players in this draft class. And while his vertical explosion fails to stand out in traffic, his rare abilities to operate as a lead ballhandler, find teammates in transition and pull up off the dribble should have organizations drooling, especially with the possibility of him maturing into a versatile face-up scorer.
The meteoric rise of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kristaps Porzingis has left front offices gambling on international teenagers in hopes of finding the next unicorn, but they shouldn’t view Aleksej as a quick fix to their problems. As skilled as Pokuševski for someone of his height, he has virtually no leverage in the post, a limited back to the basket repertoire, and struggles mightily to finish around the rim.
Despite subpar percentages from Pokuševski, thanks to his mostly sound shot mechanics, he projects as a serious threat from beyond-the-arc. He even flashed a future as a motion shooter out of screens, off the bounce, and in the pick-and-pop. And his high release and quick trigger are reminiscent of former Spur Davis Bertans, though his inconsistent follow-through held him to 32.1% from long-distance on 4.4 attempts this season.
As I mentioned earlier, Aleksej is more than comfortable taking the ball up the court, and his advanced handles, solid vision, and precision passing helped him dish out a ridiculous 4.8 assists per 36 minutes. Of course, his decision making is still a work in progress, and he can get loose with the ball, committing careless turnovers in an attempt to force an ill-advised pass into a tight window. Coaches won’t want him running their offense anytime soon, but the foundation is there for Pokuševski to join fellow countryman Nikola Jokić as a legitimate playmaking big.
San Antonio owned one of the worst defenses in the NBA before the hiatus, but through seven seeding games in Orlando, the Spurs sported the ninth-best defensive rating (110.4) and fourth-best net rating (+4.7) in the league. It was an effective young defense spearheaded by a group of tenacious stoppers that could become even more formidable with Aleksej Pokuševski added into the mix.
The European wunderkind has a world of potential as a defensive playmaker, and his 4.8 stocks (steals and blocks) per 36 minutes highlight his uncanny ability to get his mitts on the ball. His timing and instincts are impeccable, though his post and perimeter footwork still leave much to be desired, and his effort wanes from possession to possession. Additionally, his considerably slight build leaves him susceptible to being displaced by much smaller players.
While he unquestionably needs to add muscle to his spindly frame, his defensive fundamentals are surprisingly strong for an 18-year-old with little top-flight professional experience under his belt, and he pursues rebounds better than you would expect for someone so skinny. Aleksej has shown serviceability as a team defender, rotating, stunting, digging, and tagging when the situation calls for it. Like many young hoopers, ball-watching is his greatest flaw on this end of the court, and he tends to lose his man off-ball as a result.
Pokuševski would also do well to avoid an upright defensive stance, and he occasionally looks out of control when contesting or closing out on perimeter shooters. Aside from some correctable mistakes, and assuming he can bulk up without losing much mobility, Aleksej conceivably offers plenty of defensive switchability. He may never have quick enough feet to stay in front of point guards, but anyone who can potentially defend four positions (SG-C) in the NBA is an asset worth acquiring.
Studying film, gaining strength, and improving his balance and footwork are the keys to unlocking his defensive ceiling. The youngest prospect in the 2020 Draft Class likely won’t provide an immediate impact for whoever ends up selecting him. However, Aleksej Pokuševski could be well worth a long-term investment for a team willing to dedicate time and resources to his development.
Player Comparison: Dragan Bender/Jonathan Bender
Pokuševski is such a uniquely talented prospect from a physical standpoint that finding an adequate player comparison for his game is nearly impossible. Not many seven-footers can do the things Aleksej does with a basketball, and even fewer seven-footers match Bryn Forbes pound-for-pound (205 lbs) on a scale.
Every draft seems to have an international man of mystery who skyrockets up big boards across the league despite limited professional experience, and Aleksej Pokuševski appears to be this year’s riser. Dragan Bender was the big man with ball skills who captivated scouts in 2016, and he serves as a decent parallel for Pokuševski.
Dragan didn’t pan out for the Suns after they selected him fourth overall four years ago, and the Croatian center is still finding his footing in the league. Although he sometimes flashes the tools that Phoenix deemed worthy of a top-five pick, Bender has yet to convince an organization to keep him around as a regular rotation piece.
Coincidentally, Jonathan Bender, who die-hard NBA fans will remember as the prep-to-pro teenager who broke Michael Jordan’s Mcdonald’s All-American scoring record, also measures up favorably to Pokuševski. At and an inch shorter and three pounds lighter, Bender could dribble, space the floor, and put his long limbs to good use on the defensive end of the court.
I wouldn’t blame you if you found yourself discouraged by the player comparisons I presented. After all, Bender succumbed to early retirement at the hands of chronic knee injuries, and his aforementioned namesake continues to plug away in the G-League for another shot on an NBA roster.
However, Pokuševski doesn’t come with any red flags on his medical history, and a smart coaching staff won’t ask him to play heavy minutes from day one. The San Antonio Spurs are famous for utilizing their G-League affiliate to produce productive pros, and picking Pokuševski would be a merited risk if their top targets are off the board.
To check out more potential 2020 draft targets, click here.