Why the Knicks Should Target Aleksej Pokuševski – Sports Illustrated

Kris Pursiainen

[This is the 15th prospect in the 2020 draft that I’ve done a breakdown on. You can read about Cole Anthony here, Deni Avdija here, Tyrese Haliburton here, Anthony Edwards here, RJ Hampton here, Killian Hayes here, Onyeka Okongwu here, Obi Toppin here, Devin Vassell here, LaMelo Ball here, Tyrese Maxey here, Kira Lewis Jr. here, Isaac Okoro here, or James Wiseman here.]

Aleksej Pokuševski is a 7’0″, 201 pound big man from Serbia who averaged 9.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.8 assists in 21.3 minutes per game for Olympiacos B in Greece. Pokuševski, or “Poku”, made 1.4 three-point shots per game, shooting with a 32.1% conversion rate from deep, and certainly showed an ability to become a legitimate volume shooting threat in the NBA. 

Poku’s smooth footwork when gearing up to launch from beyond the arc is one of his greatest skills; it, along with his quick and controlled release, allow him to be able to come off of screens and get shots off with ease – regardless of the extent to which he’s being covered. With proper development, Pokuševski should be able to become a good NBA-level shooter, not just for a big man – a skill the Knicks are reportedly looking for in a forward to sign or draft.

In terms of his other offensive abilities, Pokuševski impressed me with his ability to pass the ball; his height and feel for the game allow him to get passes through to teammates that one wouldn’t typically expect from a power forward or center, but rather a point guard. It, of course, didn’t happen every time – but Poku delivered a good amount of intelligent passes with excellent precision throughout his most recent campaign in Europe. This smooth “feel” also shows itself on Poku’s shot attempts near the basket; he’s able to use both hands to finish at the rim, despite being easily derailed by defenders with great size.

Another skill that Poku has in a guard-like manner is his ball handling ability. His repertoire of dribble moves, in tandem with his length, allow him to create separation to get shots or passes off almost with ease. When in a position where a decision has to be made quickly, Poku often makes the “right” choice, as backed up by his turnover average of just 1.8 per game.

Defensively, Poku needs to improve on his physicality and strength before his ability on this floor can be fully assessed; I believe that with a more filled-out frame, he possesses the IQ necessary to be, at the worst, a good team defender. His individual defense may always be a weak point for him if he’s unable to bulk up to the necessary extent, and continues to flash the occasional lack of effort he did last season. 

If Pokuševski can add the strength required to at least put up a defensive fight against NBA centers, he should be switchable onto players of any archetype except for fast point guards and the league’s strongest big men. This versatility will certainly help Poku’s value as a player, as I don’t believe he’ll be an exceptional defender overall; his potential ability to hold his own against big guards, wings, and smaller interior presences will give him a purpose on that end of the floor beyond having his weak coverage made up for by more defensively able teammates, like certain shooting big men in the league. 

It is more difficult in this year than others to predict where a prospect might be selected, but I can say I don’t see Pokuševski being selected in the top ten. If the Knicks don’t use their two non-lottery selections in this year’s draft to move up in the lottery range, I would encourage them to package the picks for a mid first-round selection to use on Poku. Combining his skillset with those of whomever the team selects in the lottery, RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, and the rest of the team’s young players would result in an interesting range of abilities and talent.

A 2020-2021 season with a rotation involving players like LaMelo Ball, RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, and Aleksej Pokuševski would certainly play more “clean” basketball than the 2020 team did, due to the floor spacing provided by Poku at the power forward or center position. Having more open space on the court would result in more playmaking opportunities for ball handlers like Ball and Barrett, which in turn would provide Knicks fans with plenty of Robinson alley-oops and Poku three-pointers to cheer for. 

Aleksej Pokuševski would certainly help the New York Knicks play more modern basketball, as well as optimize the talent already on the team by providing them with the space they showed last season they might benefit a great deal from. Whether the Knicks fall substantially in the lottery and consider him, ponder packaging assets to select him in the middle of the first round, or see him fall to the Clippers’ pick in the late 20’s and think about taking him there – Pokuševski is certainly a prospect who should have caught the eye of talent evaluators such as Walt Perrin and TJ Zanin by now.