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Can the Thunder Build Their Future Around the Thin Towers?

Two of the greatest string beans in NBA history are teaming up in Oklahoma City, with Chet Holmgren joining Aleksej Pokusevski. What will the Thunder’s experimental frontcourt look like? Nothing we’ve seen before.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The first thing you think when you see Chet Holmgren, the no. 2 pick in Thursday night’s NBA draft, is that you have never seen another human being shaped like him before. He is impossibly long and skinny, to the point where you wonder whether his body has any muscles at all. His draft comp is Jack Skellington with 3-point range.

But as it turns out, there is exactly one other human being who looks like him on this planet—and that person just so happens to be his new teammate and hoopelgänger: fellow stringbean Aleksej Pokusevski.

The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor once described Poku as “the most unique player in the NBA,” while The Ringer’s J. Kyle Mann recently described Chet as a “unicorn.” But both of them compared Chet to Poku leading up to this year’s draft, because of their one-of-a-kind (well, two-of-a-kind) body type. They have different backstories: Chet was a five-star recruit generally considered the top prospect in his high school class before a successful year at Gonzaga; Poku was an 18-year-old from Serbia who had mainly played in Greece’s second division when the Thunder picked him 17th overall in 2020. But the slim giants have both found their way to Oklahoma, seemingly drawn to each other despite their relatively low gravitational pull. Now they’ll form one of the most unlikely duos imaginable. They are the Thin Towers! The Twin Twigs! The Slendermen!

So what sort of witchcraft are the Thunder planning? Can they really build an NBA future out of matchstick men? Or are they doomed to fail if a strong wind blows? Let’s dive in.

Who Is Skinnier?

According to Basketball-Reference, Poku is the second player in NBA history to be at least 7 feet tall and weigh less than 200 pounds. (The first was Boniface N’Dong, who played 23 games for the Clippers in 2005-06 at 7 feet, 198 pounds.) Holmgren will be the third. For comparison, Kevin Durant, the prototypical slim NBA player, is now listed at 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds. Chet and Poku are both 2 inches taller and roughly 50 pounds lighter.

Both Thunder bigs are listed at exactly 7 feet, and Poku is listed at 190 pounds while Chet is slightly heavier at 195. However, Holmgren has a longer wingspan—reportedly 7-foot-6, while Poku is at 7-foot-3—so he may appear a bit more stretched out. Despite being lighter, Poku looks like the thicker of the two to me. Both players are only 20 years old, so the hope is that they can put on some weight as they mature … but who knows? We’ve never really seen anybody like either of them, so we shouldn’t expect the usual developmental path.

How Similar Are Chet and Poku’s Games?

You might worry that by pairing these two tallboys the Thunder just created a redundancy. But that doesn’t seem like it will be an issue at all.

Both Poku and Chet have unusual games which seem impossible in their already impossible bodies. Chet shot 39 percent from 3 at Gonzaga, and while Poku hasn’t been efficient shooting from deep, he’s clearly got a stroke. And both have starred in YouTube videos hyping up their “guard handles.” But Poku is more of a playmaker, often stunning onlookers with out-of-nowhere passing brilliance. While Chet shoots 3s and has gone viral with slick crossovers (famously crossing up Steph Curry), he’s probably not going to make his NBA living taking people off the dribble.

Holmgren is a center whose most surefire asset is his spectacular defensive ability and rim protection—and with arms even longer than Poku’s broomsticks, it’s easy to understand why. Poku is tough to define, but he’s not really a center. Nor a defender. Poku won’t be backing Chet up—if anything, we could see the two running a pick-and-roll together with Poku the ball handler and Chet setting the screen.

Do the Thunder Have a Plan Here?

Seemingly, yes. Oklahoma City has been very intentional about two things: hoarding draft picks (seriously, they have, like, 80 draft picks) and acquiring height. On Thursday night, they used two more first-round picks on long guys. They traded for the 11th pick to take Ousmane Dieng, a 6-foot-10 forward who scouts believe has particularly high upside. Then they used the 12th pick on Jalen Williams, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard with a ridiculous 7-foot-2 wingspan. They also used a second-round pick on 6-foot-10 center Jaylin Williams, who is a different person from Jalen Williams. (That’s right—the Thunder didn’t just pair the only two 7-foot, 190-pound guys—they also got two Jalen/Jaylin Williamses. Every Thunder must be paired with their Other.)

The Thunder are adding that length to a team that used the no. 6 pick in last year’s draft on Josh Giddey, a 6-foot-8 guard who led the team in assists as a rookie. It’s entirely plausible to imagine them playing lineups where 6-foot-6 Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is their most regular-sized human. With all those arms, their defense should be impenetrable. The Thunder have a vision for their basketball future, and it is weird and beautiful. Everybody will look like a wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man.