If you're looking for high basketball IQ, size at both small and power forward and the label "NBA ready," then Kostas Papanikolaou is a name you should know.
One of the most mature, experienced players in the international circle while still relatively young, Papanikolaou played for his native Greece in numerous FIBA junior championships (2007-2010), again for his country in the 2011 EuroBasket Championships and this past season for the powerhouse club Olympiacos.
While nothing really jumps out at you from his profile other than a 6'8" frame and the fact he's only 21 years old, there isn't anything he struggles with, either. As steady an international prospect as there is, he has the ability to step in and contribute without much polishing or work right off the bat.
There are no guarantees that he decides to come to the NBA, due to his unclear role in the system and a defined role on one of the best and highest paying teams in the international scene.
(Side Note: In a shameless attempt to coin a nickname for the Greek youngster, I'm going to call him "Pap" in reference to his name).
What Pap Brings
Athletically, he's nothing special. But basketball smarts can mask some of the athletic woes by out-thinking offensive players and being in the right place to draw offensive fouls and create turnovers.
Pap is also one of the most consistent performers for Olympiacos. The lefty brings a little of everything to the table, and in 52 games this year, he averaged seven points on 50 percent shooting with a 35 percent clip from the three-point line.
He can split time between the 3 and 4, playing defense and creating matchup problems with the ball in his hands. Early reports indicate he's not much in isolation, rather excelling in spot-up situations and penetration kicks to him on the perimeter. He's also solid around the rim, converting 60 percent from inside the arc.
What Experts are Saying
Scouts love his ability to fight for position with both forward positions. NBADraft.net grades him at an 89, which is right up there with the solid, rotation-type prospects in this year's draft.
Some former NBA comparisons range from Bostjan Nachbar to young Carlos Delfino to Luke Jackson, but he also reminds me of Andres Nocioni, especially if he can continue stretching the floor from the three-point line at the NBA level.
Other scouts love his fearlessness, as he shows aggressiveness in "50-50" plays like loose balls, rebounds and mixing it up for position in the post.
You know what you get when you draft Pap, which is a positive for both understanding what he can accomplish with the right role in the NBA, and recognizing how to get the most out of his skill set.
With all the uncertainty surrounding European players using their own money to negotiate a buyout with their respective teams, it's hard to tell if Pap will be in an NBA uniform come October.
Toronto is still waiting on a top-five pick to negotiate (Jonas Valanciunas), so it's not crazy to think Pap's buyout and trip to the NBA would be more lengthy, since he's guaranteed far less money upfront in the NBA than over a long-term deal with a team like Olympiacos.
However, if he does decide to take the plunge, I think he'll be a rotation player from day one. A stint in the NBA summer league, a full training camp and the luxury of the return of the 82-game season would give him ample time to both learn the offense and begin getting accustomed to the cultural transition.
He's already a somewhat polished player in the technical aspects of the game, and while not flashy, that kind of effort helps produce a winner—just look at Olympiacos. If he decides the NBA is not in his long-term plans, the pedigree of just being in the league would likely give him a choice of any team in the European league upon his return.
Papanikolaou is a draft-and-store guy for the Knicks, as he is not NBA-ready at the moment. Though he is not a tremendous athlete, he understands the game well and makes sound basketball decisions. Kostas will have to continue to develop his perimeter game in the Euroleague before he can play in New York.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!