Aleksej Pokusevski returned to the Thunder from the OKC Blue with a better feel for the pace of the game and more confidence.
Aleksej Pokusevski’s first game back from the G League bubble was arguably the best of his career.
He hit a clutch 3-pointer from the corner. He got to the free throw line for the first time. He posted career-highs in points and rebounds.
Head coach Mark Daigneault said that being in the bubble allowed Pokusevski to reflect on his first half of his rookie season and find a better balance to his offensive rhythm.
“The hardest balance for a team and for players, especially young players, is the balance between being aggressive and confident, but also being functional and investing in the offense and blending into the team and choosing your spots,” Daigneault said.
“Early on, I thought it was evident with Poku … that he was working through that obviously and couldn’t really find that on an overly consistent basis.”
In the bubble, Pokusevski had a more prominent role than he did with the Thunder. He was a starter for the Blue, did more ball handling and played more minutes.
He said he grew more comfortable with the way U.S. basketball is played.
“Finding my pace on offense and still playing hard, competing in every game and just finding my pace with the ball on the offensive end,” he said. “Just getting more comfortable with the ball and learning the pace of the game in America.”
It sounds like Daigneault has noticed some change during practice and in that the first game back, a 116-108 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday.
“When he went there it allowed him to take a deep breath, took some time to reflect … It allowed him to just remove himself both physically and mentally from the first stint of the season,” Daigneault said.
“Once he started playing in those games, he was allowing the game to unfold and let the plays come to him. And I thought that really carried over (against the Mavericks). There wasn’t really a time where he was trying to force or trying to make something happen that wasn’t there. He really helped the offense function.”
Pokusevski didn’t dominate the bubble by any means, but he did show some improvement in the box score along with the eye test. In 13 games with the Oklahoma City Blue, Pokusevski averaged 7.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists while shooting 31.2% from the field and 27% from 3.
He also made a couple stellar passes that reached SportsCenter and the highlight reels.
Pokusevski was low-key about the pass.
“It was nice to see that I had some good moves, but the most important thing was we played as a team and I developed my game,” he said.
Daigneault similarly avoided celebrating those plays in the Zoom press conference. Though he gets excited about crazy highlights like anyone else, it’s not the flashy dimes that make great passers great passers, the coach said.
“When you watch Magic Johnson’s highlights, he’s making all those plays. If you watch Magic Johnson play the game, 90% of the passes he throws are really, really fundamental, simple passes, and that’s why he’s a great passer, not because of the highlight plays.”
To be clear, Daingeault was not comparing Pokusevski to Magic. Just saying the young forward has the abilities to be a great passer.
“The best passers, 90% of them, are making really, really simple, fundamental plays, getting off it early, putting teammates in quick advantages … and then the other ones that you see on the highlight film are frosting on the cake. He certainly has that ceiling as a passer, but no great passer has a whole diet of frosting.”
As Pokusevski matures and gets more accustomed to the game, maybe the Thunder will be able to have their frosted cake and eat it too.
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