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2020 NBA draft profile: Aleksej Pokuševski is a high-upside 7-footer who will require patience

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2020 NBA draft profile: Aleksej Pokuševski is a high-upside 7-footer who will require patience

Aleksej Pokuševski

Position: Forward 
Height: 7-foot 
Weight: 201 pounds 
Team: Olympiacos B (Greece) 

Aleksej Pokuševski’s defining trait is that he doesn’t play like most players his height. The 18-year-old Serbian has a skilled, diverse game and is drawing buzz as a potential first-round-pick. Though he became the youngest Olympiacos player to appear in the EuroLeague last March, he spent most of his time this season with Olympiacos B in the Greek second division. 

Strengths 

Pokuševski’s fluidity jumps out. He doesn’t lumber or take much time to change gears, but instead moves around the court like a conventional wing — one who happens to be especially tall.

He shows good feel and vision as a passer and seems to enjoy grabbing a rebound, starting a fast break on his own and looking for a flashy pass. 

Though he shot 17 for 53 from three-point range (32.1 percent) this year, Pokuševski has potential as a shooter, with a quick release for someone his size (there’s that theme again). He’ll need to improve his consistency, as it appears he doesn’t always correctly calibrate the right distance to extend his very long arms and often doesn’t follow through. 

Pokuševski has some ability as an off-ball defender, especially in terms of his shot-blocking instincts, and averaged 2.8 blocks and 2.0 steals per 36 minutes. That said, he has significant lapses with defensive effort and fundamentals, much of which can be attributed to youth. 

Weaknesses

Pokuševski is skinny, and not just by the standards of a professional basketball player. Gaining muscle will be critical to his development and it’s going to have to be a gradual effort, not something he’ll address sufficiently in one offseason. 

He’s not much of an interior player right now, in part because of that lack of strength. That might not ever be his game, but he’d be more viable in the NBA if he could do things like post up smaller defenders and occasionally guard opposing big men if necessary. He’s not there yet, and the team that drafts him will need to be patient. 

Another skill that requires development is his shot selection, which again isn’t unusual for a player his age. He shot just 40 percent from the floor and attempted a lot of contested jumpers. 

Fit 

If there’s an argument for the Sixers drafting Pokuševski in the first round (assuming the Oklahoma City pick conveys), it’s that the team has two high second-round picks with which it can target guards who can shoot and/or create their own shots, giving them the leeway to take a high-upside player.

On the surface, that doesn’t seem likely. Instead, Pokuševski would make much more sense on a team like the Celtics. Boston has three first-round selections and could spend one on a player that wouldn’t immediately fill a need.

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Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons to undergo surgery for loose body in left knee

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons to undergo surgery for loose body in left knee

Ben Simmons will undergo surgery to remove a loose body in his left knee, a source confirmed Saturday to NBC Sports Philadelphia. Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium first reported the news. 

He'd been diagnosed with a left patella subluxation, an injury he sustained in the Sixers' win over the Wizards on Wednesday. A source told NBC Sports Philadelphia the loose body resulted from the subluxation, and that surgery was decided as the best option after consultation with the Sixers' medical staff and several specialists. Simmons will leave the NBA's campus at Disney World and further updates will be provided after the procedure. 

This news clearly makes things much more difficult for the Sixers, who are sixth in the Eastern Conference with four seeding games remaining. Simmons made his second All-Star team this year and has immense value as an ultra-versatile defender, passer and transition playmaker. 

Without him Friday night, Al Horford started and had 21 points and nine rebounds in a win over the Magic. Guard Alec Burks also had a strong game with 22 points. They're two of the players who will be asked to elevate their games in Simmons' absence, while an even heavier burden will fall on Joel Embiid. 

We reviewed several of the big questions posed by the 24-year-old's injury here while he was evaluating his treatment options. 

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2020 NBA awards: Ben Simmons isn't a Defensive Player of the Year finalist

2020 NBA awards: Ben Simmons isn't a Defensive Player of the Year finalist

Ben Simmons, the NBA’s leader in steals this season, is not a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year. The three finalists announced Saturday are Rudy Gobert, the winner of that award the last two seasons, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis. 

A panel of sportswriters and broadcasters voted on the NBA’s awards, which were based on games through March 11. Winners will be announced during the playoffs. 

Here’s a look at the finalists for the other awards: 

Rookie of the Year 
Ja Morant
Zion Williamson 
Kendrick Nunn

MVP 
Giannis Antetokounmpo 
LeBron James 
James Harden 

Most Improved Player 
Luka Doncic 
Bam Adebayo 
Brandon Ingram 

Sixth Man of the Year 
Dennis Schroder
Lou Williams 
Montrezl Harrell

Coach of the Year 
Nick Nurse
Mike Budenholzer 
Billy Donovan 

As for Simmons, the 24-year-old, who is currently sidelined by a left patella subluxation, put together a compelling case. Among his more impressive statistics through March 11: First in steals; third in deflections per game; first in defensive loose balls recovered; 42.3 defended field goal percentage. He’s guarded point guards through centers, typically defended the opposition’s top threat late in the game and acquitted himself well against stars. 

His exclusion, however, is certainly not an egregious snub given the credentials of the finalists. Antetokounmpo is the best defender on the NBA’s top-rated defense. Davis has 2.3 blocks and 1.4 steals per game, and he’s held opponents to 38.3 percent shooting on field goals he's guarded. Gobert has defended the most field goals in the league and has a 48.2 defended field goal percentage on attempts of six feet or less, second to Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez. 

Simmons, one figures, should still feature on an All-Defensive Team for the first time, and it could very well be the First Team. 

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