How Aleksej Pokuševski and Théo Maledon Fit with the Oklahoma City Thunder

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Aleksej Pokuševski and Théo Maledon are the two youngest of Oklahoma City Thunder many recent acquisitions. The Serbian and the French youngsters will be a part of the Thunder renovated roster. Maledon is now officially apart of the roster, after the conclusion of the trade between OKC and Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Pokuševski has already been working with his new team, in a completely different experience for him.

Aleksej Pokuševski

Pokuševski is the definition of a unicorn. He plays like a guard but, at 6’11”, gives his team another ball-handler and a threat on both ends. He is really long and tall, but also very thin, he moves well but lacks in strength. Pokuševski adds outside shooting to his team, the ability to create shots and assist his teammates with his court vision. Defensively, he is capable of guarding the ball, even smaller players, using his length and lateral quickness and defend off the ball, coming up with blocks and steals. Aleksej Pokuševski brings really different and special weapons to his team on both sides of the floor and can become a really intriguing player.

Passing

Pokuševski’s vision and size allows him to be a really good passer. He can pass on the move and reads plays well, moving the ball quickly from one side of the floor to the other. He can see above defenders, which makes it easier to find open passing lanes. Pokuševski will sometimes try some crazy passes with little chance to succeed, but that is something coaches can manage and they must live with to some extent, given his creativity. He’s also a willing passer in transition, initiating plays with quarterback-like passes at times.

Shooting

He’s a good shooter, with a high release and good enough form. His height allows him to shoot over most defenders, even with little space. Pokuševski can also pull up, dribbling into his spots to get the shot he wants or making defenses pay when they go under on screens. As with anything he does, there are some instances where he takes some less than desirable shots, but those are the minority. There’s also some signs of him becoming a good movement shooter.

Driving

Pokuševski uses his size, length, and ball-handling skill to get to the rim and finish, although he can’t really finish with contact. So he usually tries to avoid contact, and slide through defenders to get to the basket. His dribble is controlled, he uses body fakes and hesitations to get past defenders. This is especially noticeable against more physical defenders, as he can’t use his strength to get past them.

Defense

Pokuševski is a good on-ball defender, with good feet and length that allows him to give extra space to ball handlers. Even when beaten, he is able to recover and contest, without biting on fakes. His physical tools also make him a good defender off the ball, coming from help to meet attackers at the rim. He also reads passing lanes to come up with steals, but this is an area where he still takes some unnecessary risks.

Théo Maledon

Maledon is a guard with good size and body for his position. He plays like a maestro, with good court vision, patience with the ball and the ability to score and involve his teammates. He has the upper body strength to withstand contact and still finish and use his body to shield defenders after pick and rolls. Maledon can also play off the ball, attacking closeouts or making open outside shots. He’ss a below average on-ball defender, with slow feet and reaction time. Despite that, his body allows him to create problems to less-skilled ball-handlers, occupying space and pressuring the ball. Maledon showed some problems this year, which made him fall in the draft, but his quick-thinking, offensive skill and high IQ can turn him into a really good NBA guard.

Passing

Probably his best trait, Maledon is a really good playmaker, getting his colleagues involved and never forcing the issue. He reads defenses, lets the help come to him before finding the open man. Maledon can make accurate passes quickly off the dribble and understand where the defense will open up space. He is not incredibly creative with his passes, but he’s extremely efficient.

Shooting

Maledon has good form and release on his shot, although a bit slow. He needs some time to get his shot off and has to adjust his feet at times but he can hit the open shot and pull up from 3 when defenders go under screens. Maledon is also able to read strong closeouts and take a quick dribble to free up space before shooting. His ability to always stay balanced and in control has helped him improve his release speed.

Driving

Although he lacks a great first step, his change of pace and hesitations/crossovers allow him to get past defenders. He does a really good job shielding the defender coming off PnR’s, keeping them on his hip to create space and open paths to the rim. Maledon has also really improved his finishing around the rim, being able to score with contact. He can read help and finish with floaters and layups high off the glass to avoid shot blockers.

Defense

Théo Maledon can stay in front of his man and create problems to his dribble. If the attacker is higly skilled and intelligent though, Maledon’s slow feet and reaction time can create problems for him. He also gets stuck on screens, with an inability to move quicly in tight spaces. His length and size is usually problematic for other guards and it allows him to compensate some movement issues on defense. He is really smart rotating defensively and coming away with steals and deflections and also closing paths to drivers.

OKC Thunder

Depth

Position1st Option2nd Option3rd Option4th Option
PGShai Gilgeous-AlexanderGeorge HillFrank JacksonThéo Maledon
SGLuguentz DortHamidou DialloDarius MillerTy Jerome
SFTrevor ArizaKenrich WilliamsAdmiral Schofield
PFDarius BazleyJustin JacksonAleksej Pokuševski
CAl HorfordMike MuscalaTJ Leaf

Thunder’s roster is still in construction, with no clear understanding on how it will look to start the season and much less what it will look like at the end of the season. While Maledon might start in the G-League due to the amount of guards in the Thunder roster, Pokuševski could start getting minutes early in the season. Maledon should also start getting some minutes in toward the end of the regular season, as OKC will most likely finish botttom of the standings.

Offense

Mark Daigneault will make his debut as an NBA head coach, after previously being in control of the Thunder’s G-League team and, last season, being an assistant coach of Billy Donovan, This will be a transition year for OKC, after changing their head coach and losing Chris Paul, Dennis Schröder, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams. Because of this, it’s hard to predict what the Thunder will look like this season and there will always be uncertainty regarding their roster, but there’s always something to be taken from Daigneault’s job with OKC Blue and last season’s Thunder.

The biggest difference between both teams was the mid range usage. The Thunder were the best mid-range team in the NBA, while 2018/19 OKC Blue rarely used it. This can be attributed mainly to the presence of Chris Paul and it is expected that it becomes closer to the numbers from the 18/19 season. Mark Daigneault’s teams will usually try to finish at the rim and space players out to open paths to the rim. Cutting and rolling will be key. Daigneault’s teams don’t usually play really fast, but they will try to run in transition and slow down if the shot isn’t there.

Transition

As noted before, Daigneault’s teams first goal to score in transition if the shot is there. They will occupy both wings and have the ball handler running the middle and whip out a quick pass to a quick shot. Maledon grew accustomed to this with ASVEL when playing with another ball-dominant guard, while Pokuševski is more of a transition initiator, although he can step into a quick 3 at times.

Daigneault likes his teams to space out as much as possible in transition and that can really benefit Pokuševski and Maledon, who welcome an open path to the rim to finish or to attract defenders and assist. Daigneault usually leaves the paint open, with 5 guys on the perimeter or has the trailer cutting into the open paint.

Early Offense Pick and Roll

Daigneault likes to run this set, where he has an early pick and roll going into the middle and the big man either screening or slipping the pick. With Maledon’s ability to play the PnR, this can be a great weapon as he can quickly hit the roll man. Or, if the defense concentrates on him, leaving Maledon open, it creates an opportunity for him to score, stopping at the 3 point line or going to the rim.

DHO Into PnR

The sets OKC Blue used weren’t really complex, they just used space and movement to get an open three or easy layup. This play, having a handoff quickly followed by a PnR and a quick roll are demonstrative of that. Daigneault can use Pokuševski as a ball handler coming into the screen, with his ability to see above defenses and pass with one hand. He can also use him as the initial ball handler, with his dribbling skill, to force the defense to pay attention to him and sometimes fake the DHO and keep the ball to go to the rim. Maledon had a similar play in France and he executed it to perfection, reading coverages and hitting the open man.

Low Post

Another staple of Daigneault is having a player isolated in the low post, while the other 4 space out the perimeter. Pokuševski uses his size against smaller players to win position inside, but isn’t really someone who likes to attack with his back to the basket, prefering to pass to cutters or spot up shooter. Maledon is someone who can hit the open shot when given and, with this set play, he will have plenty of opportunities to do so.

Defense

Both the 19/20 Thunder and the 18/19 Blue teams were top 8 in defensive rating. They were both 19th in rebounding, but compensated with steals and deflections, mainly Daigneault’s OKC Blue. He likes his teams to take risks and pressure offenses into commiting turnovers. Pokuševski and Maledon fit right with that philosophy. Both like to pressure and risk steals, but Aleksej is quicker to recover. They won’t make their team better defensively, but will step into a scheme that make use of their strengths.

Overview

Aleksej Pokuševski and Théo Maledon come into a team that can really make the most out of their game. OKC has a really good developmental program and a young team, with no pressure to win now. Both players fit into Coach Daigneault’s ideas.

There aren’t a lot of ball handlers on the team, so both fill a need. Pokuševski is different from any forward that the Thunder have, He offers things no one on the team does. His length and ability to create will be welcomed, but it is imperative that he becomes a better scorer at the rim and adds muscle to avoid being targeted by stronger players.

It will be interesting to watch the pairing of Maledon with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, as I believe they complement each other really well. I would like to see Théo evolving under the wing of Chris Paul, but a guy like George Hill can be a help for him, especially on the defensive end. It will probably be best for Maledon to start in the G-League, to get used to American basketball, but given time and confidence (which I believe he will have in OKC), he could be a really good pickup for them.

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