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1 pleasant surprise who stood out for Thunder during 2021 NBA training camp

Thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder will not be great this season and it seems like they have accepted that.

The Thunder have a plethora of picks, young players, and potential scenarios for the future. Right now, the focus is and will be for at least one more season after this one, the development of young guys. Shai Gilgeous Alexander is the star of the team, while his supporting cast is still to be determined. With these young teams, it is difficult to pin down who will be a key part going forward. However, one prospect could be a possible training camp surprise before the 2021-22 season begins.

This squad is full of very young, raw prospects and the challenge will be determining who is of NBA quality, and who just had empty numbers on a bad team. The Thunder team that made the playoffs in the bubble had Lugenz Dort, so he should be alongside Gilgeous-Alexander when the time comes for this team to really be in contention. The same should be said for the rookies, Josh Giddey and Tre Mann, both of which have been selected to be the future of the team.

One Thunder player who has been the talk of the town during training camp and is earning his long-term place – Aleksej Pokusevski.

Thunder training camp surprise

Pokusevski is a forward that came over from the legendary Greek club Olympiacos. He is still 19 and has a ton of time to become a great player for this Thunder team. Unfortunately for the Serbian, his first season was not completely great. He played in 45 games, averaging 24.2 minutes per contest and 8.2 points per game. He had abysmal shooting averages, just 34.1% from the field and 28.0% from three. However, that is just the first year, which can be very difficult for guys coming over from Europe.

While his preseason debut was not ideal, Pokusevski has been great in training camp. Rylan Stiles from CU Sports reported a statement from Thunder coach Mark Daigneault, where he said that Pokusevski entered camp with better stamina, strength, and decision making. The last part is very important since the Serbian had 2.2 turnovers a game last season.

The praise did not stop there. As the Oklahoman reports, coach Daigneault had more things to say about Pokusevski. Here is what the Thunder coach stated after the second day of training camp:

He’s getting to the paint a little bit more. Obviously when he first started last year that was one thing that was glaring. He wasn’t in the paint very often at all. He was very perimeter-oriented. With his body type, when he walks into the gym he doesn’t look overly different, but he definitely looks, on the court, more comfortable out there.

All of these things are positive signs for the Serbian, especially when Sam Presti whose job it is to assemble the roster says that he saw the improvement, as the same Oklahoman report states. Pokusevski has a future in the NBA and the Thunder is the perfect place for it. This amount of young talent, combined with a great coaching staff and patience in the front office means that the Serbian forward can expect to have great minutes this year.

Obviously, this is all barring some sort of injury or a change in the rotation. Pokusevski still has a ton of work to do this year to really solidify his place in the team. Putting on the weight was good, and it was a start. However, now, he will need to put in a lot of hours in the gym to really get his body to a certain, NBA standard. While his skill set is formidable for his age, the NBA is still a fairly physical league, thus he needs a ton of strength, especially in his position. The Thunder will definitely insist on this, so we can expect him to get a bit bigger this year.

As mentioned right away, the Thunder are really not looking to make this season a winning one. They are aware that the Western Conference is very rough and to make it there, they do not have the roster. However, with the Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers, and Los Angeles Clippers having superteams, the Thunder is clearly looking beyond this short period to build their squad. Beating these teams is very difficult, but age will become a factor. As soon as their stars start to fade, the Thunder are hoping that the youngsters will be ready.

Pokusevski is definitely hoping that he is one of them. If he is, that will be in part to his great work this summer and during training camp.