Grading the Aleksej Pokusevski signing for the Hornets

Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day
Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day / Joshua Gateley/GettyImages

The NBA trade deadline may have passed, but that doesn’t mean the Hornets are done making moves as Tuesday afternoon the team signed former first-round pick Aleksej Pokusevski. Poku was drafted 17th overall in 2020 by the Thunder who waived him earlier this week.

Poku was (and really still is) a polarizing prospect out of Serbia, garnering fame and attention for his lanky 7-foot, 190-pound frame combined with perimeter skills. He was hailed as a bit of a unicorn, one of the first players at that height to play like a guard.

He showed glimpses at times but was never able to carve out a consistent role on a Thunder team that quickly got crowded with young talent. Even in his fourth year in the league, Poku is still extremely raw. He needs to put on weight and muscle, he needs to become a more consistent shooter, he needs to be stronger with the ball, he needs to improve his footwork, and he needs to get better on defense.

So, he has to improve in a lot of areas; but above all else, he just needs to play. That wasn’t going to happen in Oklahoma City, but it could happen in Charlotte. That’s why this is a perfect signing for the Hornets and exactly the kind of move they should be making.

Poku is still just 22 years old, and he’s still a 7-footer with a jump shot and a handle. There aren’t that many guys like that on earth. I’ve been begging the Hornets to take low-risk chances on guys with upside and he fits the bill to a tee.

If he doesn’t amount to anything and never develops, there will be no harm done at all. But if he does? This could go down as an unbelievable move. They can afford to trot him out there, let him grow, let him actually find a rhythm in the NBA, and possibly become a real player.

We’re talking about a 22-year-old 7-footer who has played in just 150 career games and has played just over 3000 career minutes. Yet he’s scored 29 points in a game, he’s had 15 rebounds in a game, he’s dished out 12 assists in a game, he’s blocked 6 shots in a game, and he’s recorded a triple-double.

The talent and potential are clearly there, he just needs to channel it and be able to tap into it consistently. Hopefully, that can happen in Charlotte. It likely helped that the Hornets just acquired three of Poku’s former teammates at the deadline in Vasilije Micic, Tre Mann, and Davis Bertans.

Micic is a fellow Serbian and Mann was a glue guy in the Thunder locker room. I would imagine these guys spoke to Poku and helped sell him on joining the Hornets. On top of that, Poku should actually get the chance to play here, and possibly carve out a role. 

This may be nothing, or it may be a match made in heaven. But either way, for a 15-43 Hornets team this move is a slam dunk. There is virtually no risk, and the reward could be incredible. If nothing else, it will be fun and entertaining to watch this unicorn on the court.

Grade: A