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Just what kind of prospect is Aleksej Pokusevski?

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Should the Wizards trade down to select Serbian seven-footer Aleksej Pokusevski?
Photo by Marcel Engelbrecht/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In his “Deal of the Day” series, Jheiser3 proposed the Wizards trade down in the draft to select Aleksej Pokusevki, an 18-year old seven-footer from Serbia who’s fluid ball handling and creative passing has sparked significant chatter among draftniks.

Opinions on Pokusevski are thoroughly divided. And I’m just talking about myself. The “rail thin” cliché does injustice to his frame. He’s slender to the point of bony. “Pencil thin” might be overstating things. What’s thinner than a toothpick?

Watch video of him and you’ll find evidence to think he could be great or to think he could be an NBA nothing. When I reviewed tape, here’s what I liked:

  • Fluidity — he moves well laterally and has wiggle in his game.
  • Ball skills — very good ball handling and passing
  • Court vision — his video includes some outstanding passes through traffic and crosscourt skip passes that look like they could have been thrown by someone like Lebron James, Chris Paul or John Wall.
  • Confidence — I’m not sure if anyone thinks more of his game than he does. I’m not sure if he thinks anyone else is as good as he is.
  • Love of the game — The kind of skill, vision and flare he plays with doesn’t happen unless a player spends a lot of time on the court and has a real passion for playing. It’s clear that’s the case with Pokusevski.

What I didn’t like:

  • Defensive effort — it was often nonexistent. That’s not uncommon for a young player.
  • He doesn’t consistently run hard in defensive tradition.
  • He seems comfortable and confident taking threes, but there was also strain at times from the international line. That could be related to his emaciated frame.
  • He lacks vertical explosion.
  • While he’s fluid athletically, he wasn’t able to get to the rim driving against fairly low-level competition.
  • I was not impressed by his finishing ability around the rim.
  • Weak. Not surprising for an 18-year old, but he needs to add core and upper body strength, and he needs some work understanding leverage so he can cut down on how often he’s nudged off his spot.

When I ran him through Ye Olde Draft Analyzer (YODA for short), my stat-based draft scout, there were some distinct red flags. His rebounding, assists. steals and blocks look solid, but the level of competition was low. And it was just 256 total minutes.

What didn’t look so good: shooting percentages — 48% on twos and 32% on threes. Overall, his effective field goal percentage was .481 because half his shots were threes. I offer again a small sample size warning. One additional made three would raise his percentage to a respectable 34%.

Free throw shooting is often a better indicator of base shooting ability than three-point percentage. Pokusevki shot 78% from the free throw line this season.

That low two-point percentage is a red flag, though. For a PF prospect coming out of the NCAA, my benchmark is 55% or better. For centers, it’s 60%. His low offensive rebounding rate is also a potential concern. Against meh competition, expectations are higher. Taken together, these red flags raises questions about his applied athleticism — if he couldn’t finish inside or get to the rim in a lower level professional league, how is going to compete in the NBA? If he doesn’t get offensive boards with a significant height advantage against most opponents, how can he hope to compete against NBA-level athletes?

His YODA grade, after deductions for being slow, weak and ground-bound, has him borderline draftable. From what I’ve seen on video and in the numbers, he seems like a classic high ceiling/low floor player.

His fluidity, ball skills, love of the game and flare suggest the potential to be something special — if he can get stronger and learn to compete against better competition. Or, he may be too skinny and unathletic to ever be useful in the NBA. It’s the most difficult league in pro sports.

The Wizards are in no position to take him in the first round. A team with a proven player development record that can afford to wait two or three years to see if he can develop into an NBA player might. Washington wants to win now and can’t afford a wait-and-see prospect in round one. If he’s somehow available in the second half of round two, the Wizards could buy a pick and pull the draft-and-stash. More likely, Pokusevski will go in the first round to a team with fewer immediate needs.