In their game against the Celtics, the Oklahoma City Thunder had two rookies in their starting lineup. The other three guys are each in their second year. Believe it or not, the player out of that unit that has appeared in most of the games is the undrafted Luguentz Dort. Talk about a youth movement.
OKC’s lineup is likely to persist after the announcement that Al Horford would be sitting for the rest of the season. This means that 7’1 Moses Brown, the former UCLA big man, would remain as the starting center. He isn’t the only seven-footer in the starting lineup, as he’s joined by Aleksej Pokusevski. They’ve also got Isaiah Roby in there.
The fact of the matter is that the Thunder basically hold all the cards for the next seven NBA drafts. All the blockbuster deals they made helped to net them an incredible array of picks. And they can either build through the draft as they did from 2007-2009 with KD, Harden and Westbrook or trade them to figure out what works.
Even as the team deals with some injuries and struggles, good days remain ahead.
Théo Maledon Making the Most of His Opportunity
Still just 19 years of age, Théo Maledon is surprising many folks with his play this year. He was drafted by the 76ers in the second round of the draft before coming to OKC in the Horford-Danny Green deal. And in doing so, the team was able to net a player that looks to be a promising part of an incredibly bright future.
Maledon split the 2019-20 year between ASVEL, a team in the French LNB Pro A league, and the EuroLeague. He played for LDLC Asvel in the EuroLeague and averaged seven points and nearly three assists per game. He played nearly 16 minutes per game while appearing in 42 contests.
His per-36 numbers stack up pretty nicely, though. Maledon averaged 15 points, four rebounds, and nearly six assists per game per 36 minutes. And though he has struggled with his shot in the NBA, Maledon is averaging nine points, three rebounds, and three assists per game. Not bad for a teenager that was selected in the second round, huh?
Don’t Forget About Pokusevski
If you call Aleksej Pokusevski by his popular nickname, Poku, you are saving yourself the trouble of trying to learn how to both spell and pronounce his name. It is perhaps even more difficult than Giannis Antetokounmpo. And if you sing Alexsej’s nickname in song form: “Poku Poku Poku, can’t you see? Sometimes your length and potential just hypnotize me,” then you’re not alone. I do it too. Shoutout to Biggie Smalls.
Believe it or not, Poku is shooting just 29% from the floor and 23% from three. He shot 2-21 in the first five games of his NBA career, though he did record five steals and five blocks in that timeframe. Since rejoining the rotation, though, things have improved. He’s scored in double-digits in four of nine games.
The thing about Poku is that he’s brimming with potential. He’s a slim seven-footer that has the ability to knock down the three on offense while serving as a sufficient shot-blocker on the defensive end. Kind of like when the team had Serge Ibaka as a power forward; it’s a unique advantage when you can play multiple shot-blockers on the floor at the same time.
The shooting numbers will get better as Poku gets more reps. Field-goal percentage isn’t the be-all-end-all, or then worry would exist. The main thing is that OKC has a young first-year head coach and an incredibly young team. While Shai-Gilgeous Alexander is out, they have absolutely no expectations. So Poku, let the shots fly. It’s a win if you make them. It’s a win if you miss them because your team gets a better draft pick.
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Moses Brown is Very Good at Basketball
Moses Brown did not get drafted in 2019. He did end up signing in Portland and appearing in nine games, though. And this looked like another lost year for the young big man. Until his dominant performance in the G-League bubble turned some heads, and he found his way right into the OKC rotation.
During his first opportunity at regular minutes, Brown put up eight points and 12 rebounds in just 19:15 of action. He’s posted four double-doubles in the last six games, including an impressive 21-point, 23-rebound effort against the Celtics in their matchup on Saturday. Just one day after that performance, they rewarded him with a multi-year contract.
At 7’1, Brown is a force to be reckoned with. He hasn’t shown consistent ability to be a shot-blocker, though he does do a nice job on the interior. The fact that he’s played only 25 games in the NBA and he’s already putting up great numbers like this is scary. The Thunder continue to just find guys that fit.
The Future is Bright
The other two starters for the Thunder on Saturday were Lu Dort and Isaiah Roby. Roby logged just three games last season, while Dort worked his way into the starting lineup by year’s end after being undrafted. All five of OKC’s players were either rookies or sophomores.
As they continue to build, OKC will be very dangerous. When you add guys like SGA and Darius Bazley to the mix of players the team has, they’re even scarier.