The Houston Rockets will have a different look entering the 2014-15 NBA season, and while the acquisition of Kostas Papanikolaou won't move the needle much for casual admirers, fans in Clutch City should know a few things about one of their newest acquisitions.
At 24 years old, Papanikolaou is about to make the transition from Europe to the NBA. As he stated in a written statement following the signing of his new contract (h/t Aris Barkas of EuroHoops.net), "A new page opens [upon] me and the biggest challenge of my [career] awaits."
So who is this youngster who's embarking upon the biggest challenge of his career? As B/R's Dave Leonardis put it, he's the newest "international man of mystery."
There's a lot to learn about Papanikolaou, but one thing we know is that he's been a winner up to this point in his career. That's a mentality Houston needs, and it's one that will behoove all parties involved during the 2014-15 campaign.
At 24 years old, Papanikolaou is hardly a household name for NBA fans. His accolades, however, are impressive considering his age.
At this point in his professional career, Papanikolaou is a two-time Euroleague champion. He's also a Greek League champion and a Spanish League champion from 2012 and 2014, respectively.
On top of the team success he's achieved, he was the MVP of the 2009 FIBA Europe Under-20 Championship, the MVP of the Greek Youth All-Star Game the same year and the Euroleague Rising Star of 2013.
Will all this success translate across the pond in the NBA? Not necessarily. The professional game is played at a different level here than it is there, but all that said, the prospect brings a versatile skill set to the table, and his on-court abilities are noteworthy entering his rookie season.
What He Brings To The Rockets
Papanikolaou was drafted in 2012 by the New York Knicks. He was selected as a draft-and-stash prospect who ultimately stayed with Greek heavyweight Olympiakos, and he was eventually traded to the Portland Trail Blazers as part of the deal that sent Raymond Felton to the Big Apple.
From there, all while Papanikolaou was still overseas, the Rockets acquired his rights while trading away Thomas Robinson to make room for Dwight Howard. Then on Aug. 8, Houston finally signed him to a two-year deal, as reported by Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
Set to play his first game in the NBA this fall, Papanikolaou brings both size and versatility to the roster. At 6'8" (or 6'9" depending where you look), he has the potential to play as either a 3 or stretch-4 at this level.
According to DraftExpress.com, he shot 36.1 percent from deep this past season in the Euroleague, and while he only averaged 6.9 points per contest, his minutes were limited to 25.0 per game and he shot an efficient 60.4 percent from two-point range.
Papanikolaou doesn't have elite athleticism, but he appears to have a great motor. As he said in his written statement (from above), "I know that in order to justify my presence i have to work two and three times as hard as i did [until] now, but this isn't something that scares me."
He's more of a 3 at this point, but he doesn't appear intimidated by contact, offering hope he can play down low on occasion. He'll have to adjust defensively to the NBA game, but his work ethic and already-impressive defensive attributes should give fans hope he can be a difference-maker on both ends of the floor sooner rather than later.
At this juncture, it's safe to say Papanikolaou won't exude stardom as the Rockets make a run at playoff success in 2015. That said, there's at least a glimmer of hope he can soften the blow of Chandler Parsons' offseason departure.
As ESPN's Marc Stein put it, "The 6-foot-9 small forward has won the Euroleague championship twice already in his young career and appeared destined to continue playing in Spain this season until the Rockets, after losing Parsons in free agency to the Mavericks, decided to increase their offer."
Don't expect greatness on Day 1, but with the kind of money Papanikolaou will be making in 2014-15 ($4.8 million guaranteed, according to Wojnarowski), he'll certainly have a shot to earn his minutes. A modest role to start the year should be expected, but if he can step in and avoid mistakes while spreading the floor, he could make a name for himself on a roster full of unproven role players.
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