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The Great Debate: Weighing Maledon and Pokusevski's Thunder seasons

Aleksej Pokusevski and Theo Maledon each had uniquely solid rookie seasons, but only one can prevail in the rookie season debate.

Oklahoma City got exactly what it needed out of both Theo Maledon and Aleksej Pokusevski.

The two have vastly different games. Pokusevski relies on length and a little flash, and Maledon is calm, collected, smooth. Both excelled and underperformed at times.

The two 19-year-old’s seasons don’t need to be compared. But what else is the offseason for?

I. Maledon

Theo Maledon, Russell Westbrook, Washington Wizards

Oklahoma City guard Theo Maledon

Theo Maledon’s game is smooth.

Like, Tony Parker teardrop smooth. Michael Jackson moonwalk smooth. Caramel on a Braum’s sundae smooth.

That much was apparent in his first ever preseason performance.

The rookie can slice and dice his way to the rim, or pull up with grace from anywhere on the court. He moves his feet well and has a quick first step. Averages of 10.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.5 can all attest to that.

What Oklahoma City needed out of Maledon was consistency, something he provided all season long.

While he certainly could be streaky, he was consistent in a broader sense, playing more minutes than any other player on the OKC roster. The former EuroLeague pro never wavered in big moments, playing a pivotal starting role down the stretch of the season.

Maledon has plenty to work on; staying aggressive offensively, producing without the ball in his hands, defense in general.

But for the 34th overall pick in the 2020 Draft, Oklahoma City couldn’t have asked for much more.

II. Pokusevski

Aleksej Pokusevski, Toronto Raptors

Oklahoma City forward Aleksej Pokusevski

Aleksej Pokusevski is absolutely captivating.

Whether it be for a flurry of off-balance 3-pointers or behind-the-back dishes, Pokusevski’s good, bad and ugly will hold your attention.

At 7-foot, 195-pounds, usually hanging around the 3-point line, it’s hard not to gravitate towards him.

Comparing Pokusevski’s season to Maledon’s is tough, considering there was a clear divide between horrific and promising play, AKA the G-League bubble.

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In his first 17 NBA games, he scored 3.3 points, brought down 3.5 rebonds and dished out 1.2 assists while shooting 24 percent from the field and 17 percent from three.

For newer NBA fans, that’s not exactly what you want.

Post-bubble, Poku was a new man, averaging 11.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.7 assists on 36 percent from the field and 31 percent from 3-point land.

That we can work with.

Pokusevski has much more to work on than Maledon, starting with some pretty general NBA stuff. Tightening his handle, taking more efficient shots and bulking up his frame are going to help his game the most. He’s got plenty of great instincts on both sides of the ball.

Overall, you have to think Sam Presti and the Thunder are happy they took a chance on the kid from Serbia with the 17th overall pick.


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III. Closing Arguments

Again, there’s no need to compare Maledon and Pokusevski’s games or debut seasons. Both are great pieces in uniquely different ways and will more than likely contribute to plenty of OKC success in the future.

But it’s the offseason and it must be done.

Maledon was solid. Steady as a rock. But the flashes necessary for me to give him this completely theoretical and irrelevant award weren’t there as a rookie.

I, personally, am always going to value a higher ceiling over a higher floor, and that’s one of the major advantages Pokusevski has on Maledon.

Pokusevski made up serious ground on Maledon in the latter half of the season, becoming nearly as-efficient while contributing some decent defensive minutes and playmaking down the stretch.

Pokusevski definitely had some ugly stuff, but he balanced that with some promising, star-level flashes.

One thing is certain, if I’m going to have to keep debating multiple solid rookie seasons, Oklahoma City’s future is in good hands.