Tanking Diary: OKC’s Youngest Shine the Brightest

How bright is the future for the Oklahoma City Thunder? Despite getting walloped by the Phoenix Suns, 140-103, despite having a near-completely depleted roster, OKC’s two youngest players, Theo Maledon and Aleksej Pokusevski shined the brightest against the second-best team in the Western Conference.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been out for over a week with plantar fasciitis. Darius Bazley hasn’t played since the All-Star break, Mike Muscala is sitting, Al Horford won’t play for the remainder of the season, and Luguentz Dort is out after suffering a concussion earlier this week. OKC’s central core isn’t playing, and subsequently, OKC’s losing games. However, the growth and the promise from Maledon (19) and Pokusevski (19) have been shining through, especially against the Suns, when the Thunder looked entirely dilapidated.

Pokusevski has shown tremendous growth since returning from the G-League bubble. He’s gone from looking like he may need another couple of years overseas to a promising young player, and that was on display against the Suns on Friday night.

Poku showcased everything that Sam Presti raved about after drafting him in the first round. From sling-shot assists to Maledon standing idly on the wing, taking more experienced defenders off the dribble, and finishing beautifully at the rim, the kid from Serbia was one of the brightest spots for the Thunder.

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Pokusevski finished with 20 points, five rebounds, four assists, and one steal on 7-of-14 shooting. In my opinion, this was Poku’s best performance of his rookie season.

Speaking of best performances, Maledon had the best showing of any Thunder player, and Friday night against Phoenix was undoubtedly his best performance of his rookie year.

Maledon has eclipsed the expectations of a 19-year old, second-round draft pick already. As mentioned numerous times, his mentor is fellow Frenchman Tony Parker, and that’s evident based on his playing style. Never overly flashy, smooth, confident, and unemotional on the court. Watching Maledon play, at times, you’d think he was a seasoned vet. Even when he does not have his best game, you won’t notice from his body language.

That held against the Suns. It’s safe to say that Maledon had the game of his career in his first NBA season, yet you couldn’t tell the difference between this game where he scored 33 points on 10-of-18 shooting and Wednesday night when he shot 3-of-16 from the field for 11 points. He keeps the same energy, the same demeanor, and the same drive no matter what, which will be a positive attribute when the Thunder return to contention and are in the middle of intense situations, with him potentially running the offense.

Maledon also shot 5-of-7 from three and 8-of-10 from the free-throw line.

Yes, the Thunder lost by 37 points. Yes, they gave up 32 points on 55 percent shooting from Devin Booker, including 17 points and 12 assists from former Thunder point guard Chris Paul. Still, after watching this game, you can’t say that there’s not a bright future for guys like Theo Maledon and Aleksej Pokusevski.

Addam M. Francisco

Founder & Editor-in-Chief. National Association of Black Journalists. University of Central Oklahoma.

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