This insane Poku-JRE play vs. Nuggets shows how fun Thunder can be

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Bigs aren’t supposed to be able to do this.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have made it their mission to draft as many players who can do as many things as possible. A traditional center? Don’t even think about it. A 7-foot ball handler with magical passing? Sign them up. It’s like the Drake meme, but with Sam Presti’s face photoshopped over the rapper.

In the Thunder’s 113-107 overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets to close out the preseason, the aforementioned Aleksej Pokusevski and 6-foot-8 center Jeremiah Robinson-Earl pulled off an exhilarating two-man passing clinic that would make Nuggets star Nikola Jokic proud.

Again — bigs don’t do this.

Pokusevski dribbles behind the back, bounces the ball between his legs and taps the pass behind his back — all without using his right hand. Without stopping his motion, he flies into the lane.

The ball finds Robinson-Earl, who immediately shifts it to his right hand and fires a one-handed, side-arm bounce pass around his defender and into the lane for a give-and-go.

Pokusevski slightly overran the rim, but the pass is good enough and the Serbian is long enough to grab it and lay it in from the other side of the basket.

It was masterful. Twitter reacted in suit.

Those two weren’t the only to show off their passing. Rookie forward/guard Josh Giddey drove into the lane, took to the air and passed around the defender to hit Mike Muscala, who finished the easy layup.

It’s OK to feel bad for Nuggets big Zeke Nnaji, who was at the defensive receiving end of both remarkable plays from the young Thunder players.

Oklahoma City couldn’t get the win, but there were positives for the second game in a row against Denver.

Aleksej Pokusevski

After a poor start to the preseason, Pokusevski broke out in this fourth game. Over 38 minutes of play, he scored 22 points, grabbed eight rebounds, dished three assists and had a steal.

Over the first three games, he shot 6-for-25 from the field (24%) and 4-for-9 from 3 (14%). On Thursday, he made more baskets than he had in the first three games combined (9-for-16 from the field) and made twice as many 3s as he had in the first games.

For every good Pokusevski pass, there continues to be a bad, and his overtime turnover is evidence of that. For every bad Pokusevski 3-point miss, their is a made 3, and his shot with less than a minute remaining to pull the deficit to one is evidence of that.

It’s the same fun, never-know-what-you’re-going-to-get player of last season. On Thursday, it was much, much more of the good than the first preseason games.

Doing it without the stars

The Thunder rested four of its key players for the final preseason game, three of whom are certain to be starters and the other (Derrick Favors) seeming likely to be.

Favors, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lu Dort and Darius Bazley were all out for Oklahoma City.

The Thunder also had three injured players: Kenrich Williams (right big toe sprain), Mamadi Diakite (left hip fracture) and Vit Krejci (visa status).

Neither Tre Mann (right heel soreness) nor Isaiah Roby (right knee soreness) played in the second half of the game after being ruled out during halftime.

Even without those players, the Thunder scored 30 points in the first quarter and 33 points in the third quarter.

It must be mentioned that the primary Nuggets starters also rested this game, but the Thunder backups keeping up with Denver backups is an improvement from last season.

Theo Maledon

Theo Maledon, back in the starting lineup, had his best game of the preseason. The second-year point guard posted 11 points, seven rebounds and four assists while shooting an efficient 4-for-7 from the field and making two of the four 3-pointers he attempted.

Maledon’s start asserts his presence as the top point guard off the bench, but he’ll be challenged this season for playing time in a way he was not last year. There is more competition with Tre Mann joining the team and Giddey able to play the point, and now that Gilgeous-Alexander is back in the starting rotation, Maledon’s starts will be extremely limited.

It was a nice way for Maledon to end the preseason.

Other notable performances

Giddey once again had a nice preseason showing, posting a well-rounded 13 points, nine rebounds and eight assists on 6-for-13 shooting. He has established himself as a no-brainer starter for the Thunder with his play this offseason.

Ty Jerome had 16 points, seven assists and three rebounds. In speaking about the playing time challenges posed to Maledon, one cannot forget this third-year guard. Jerome was inefficient on Thursday, but he has proven himself as an NBA-rotation player over the last year.

The 15th Thunder rotation spot may be between Gabriel Deck and D.J. Wilson. Deck was better on Thursday, recording nine points and 11 rebounds in 24 minutes of play. Wilson, in 12 minutes on the court, had three points, one rebound and a block.

Oklahoma City tips off its regular season on Oct. 20 with an 8 p.m. start time against the Utah Jazz.

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