Sam Presti had a busy draft night a year ago.
After trading Chris Paul to Phoenix, the Oklahoma City Thunder officially handed the keys to the franchise over to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander while simultaneously entering full rebuild mode.
Ahead of the draft, Presti made his first trade of the day. He sent Danny Green and Terrance Ferguson to Philadelphia for Al Horford, a 2025 first round pick, the draft rights to Vasilije Micic and the No. 34-overall pick in the 2020 draft.
The deal set the stage for a busy draft night, where OKC would enter with four picks — No. 25, No. 28, No. 34 and No. 53.
Leading up to the draft, Presti and the Thunder were reported to be big fans of Serbian sensation Aleksej Pokusevski. An incredibly raw talent, the seven footer paired his elite size with playmaking upside fit for a wing, a rare combination. On top of that, he was the youngest prospect in the draft, younger even than most of his counterparts in the 2021 draft class, meaning he would have plenty of time to develop once he entered the NBA.
But unfortunately for Presti, he wasn’t the only fan of Pokusevski. The Dallas Mavericks were also reportedly high on the prospect, meaning the Thunder wouldn’t be able to stand pat and get Pokusevski with the 25th pick.
As the Mavericks are looming at pick No. 18, Presti made his move.
The Oklahoma City General Manager got the Minnesota Timberwolves on the line and worked out a trade which sent Ricky Rubio, who was acquired in the Paul trade, to Minnesota along with picks 25 and 28 for the 17th slot.
Presti then pulled the trigger on Pokusevski.
Predictably, the Serbian had a rocky start to his NBA career. Never short on confidence, Pokusevski struggled early on as the NBA learning curve proved steep.
But after a stint in the G League Bubble with the Oklahoma City Blue, Pokusevski returned to the main roster with the Thunder and began to see some consistent minutes coming off the bench.
Pulling down 4.7 rebounds per game, Pokusevski shoed the NBA the playmaking ability which Presti had been keen on. The big dished out 2.2 assists per game, but also turned the ball over 2.2 times per game as he worked through what he could and couldn’t get away with at this level.
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Outside of making plays for his teammates, Pokusevski was a streaky scorer, averaging 8.2 points per game on 34.1 percent shooting from the field and a sub-par 28.0 percent shooting mark from downtown.
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Pokusevski was also afforded another great learning opportunity as injuries and roster moves toward the end of the season saw him thrust into the starting lineup, all before he’s turned 20 years old.
The Thunder brought in another rookie running mate for Pokusevski in the 2020 draft, taking French point guard Theo Maledon with the No. 34-overall pick early in the second round.
Envisioning the role of second unit point guard, Maledon got plenty more opportunity in his first year.
The 6-foot-1 guard started in 49 of his 65 appearances last season, averaging 27.4 minutes per game.
Maledon averaged 10.1 points per game on 36.8 percent shooting from the field. He was able to get to the rim while also converting 33.5 percent of his attempts from 3-point range. Similar to Pokusevski, he lived on the edge of creation and disaster, doling out 3.5 assists per game while turning the ball over 2.2 times a contest.
That was all part of head coach Mark Daigneault’s plans, however, so it shouldn’t be grounds for panic. Daigneault said the coaching staff intentionally wanted to force Maledon out of his comfort zone as he tried to digest opposing defenses, ensuring the rookie worked through experiences that will be essential to his development and growth as his career progresses.
One final move was in Presti’s cards, as he moved back up again to the 37th pick to nab the draft rights for 21-year old guard Vit Krejci from the Czech Republic. Krejci has yet to make the trip across the pond to sign an NBA contract with the Thunder.