Knicks Make Smart Selection in Papanikolaou

In Thursday’s 2012 NBA Draft, the Knicks did not have a pick until the 48th selection. With that selection, they passed on the opportunity to add depth to the team now and opted to build for the future. The Knicks selected Greek forward Kostas Papanikolaou with their 2nd round selection. While many good things have been said by smart people regarding Papanikolaou, you won’t see him in Knicks orange and blue anytime soon. The earliest he can play in the NBA, pending a Knicks buyout, would be during the 2013-2014 season. If the Knicks opt not to buy out Papanikolaou’s contract, the earliest he can play in the league would be the 2014-2015 season. So who is Kostas Papanikolaou?

Here’s what the guys over at Draft Express had to say about the Greek forward:

“An average athlete with an excellent feel for the game, good fundamentals, and terrific maturity, Papanikolaou’s profile may not jump off the page on first glance, but his size, defensive prowess, experience and productivity at the highest levels of European basketball make him one of the most intriguing 1990-born international prospects automatically eligible for the 2012 NBA Draft.

Standing 6’8 with a solid frame, Papanikolaou has excellent size for a NBA small forward, though he sees time at both forward spots for the Euroleague champions Olympiacos. He runs the floor with purpose, and is able to play above the rim when he has a head of steam, but is otherwise an average athlete. He isn’t explosive from a stand-still and his limited agility makes it difficult for him to create his own shot in one-on-one situations, but his non-stop motor and willingness to initiate contact allow him to make some plays by virtue of his physical tools in the European game.

On the offensive end, Papanikolaou spends most of his time out on the perimeter, even if quite a few of his possessions end at the rim as a result of his off-ball movement. Not a terribly assertive scorer, Papanikolaou functions as a complementary player, seldom forcing the issue and making smart reads playing off his teammates. He’s turned the ball over just 30 times so far this year in nearly 1000 minutes, about once for every 40 Euroleague minutes he plays.

Nearly half of Papanikolaou’s touches come in spot-up situations according to Synergy Sports Technology, and the lefty has been a sporadic catch and shoot player in recent seasons. He is the definition of a rhythm shooter, seldom making a contested shot or a long jumper that he doesn’t simply step into, but he’s knocked down 39% of his catch and shoot jumpers this season. Showing a quick release and solid shooting mechanics, he’s been a little streaky at times this year, making just 34% of his 3-pointers on the season. Considering how heavily his contributions offensively revolve around this part of his game, he’ll need to continue improving his consistency to reach his full potential in the European game or otherwise, but his showing this past weekend at the Final Four was clearly a major and very visible step forward.

Apart from his touches as a spot-up shooter, most of Papanikolaou’s shots come right at the rim. He isn’t adept at creating his own shot, and is only a decent ball-handler, even if he does occasionally push the ball up the floor himself or beat his man and get to the rim with a straight-line drive. Extremely active off the ball, Papanikolaou proves to be a capable finisher at the rim, using his body well and showing good touch. He struggles to finish over and around athletic shot-blockers, but gets the job done in the paint at this level with timing and smarts, converting 60% of his field goal attempts inside the arc.

Defensively, Papanikolaou is rock solid at the Euroleague level. By no means is he a lock down defender, but he competes every possession, always boxes out, makes some plays in the passing lanes thanks to his anticipation, and does a terrific job pestering his man off the ball. Spending time defending both forward spots, Papaniolaou is better suited to defend the three, as his lack of size and tremendous physical strength can be a challenge for him in the post. His average lateral quickness may render him slightly less effective at the NBA level, but his fundamentals and basketball IQ would surely help him hold his own against better athletes. He’s also a solid rebounder, particularly on the offensive end due to his activity level.

One of the most mature and polished players in this year’s group of automatically eligible international prospects, Papanikolaou is by no means a glamorous player. He may not be an aggressive enough scorer for certain NBA coaches, but his size, defensive prowess, ability to accept and fill an important role, knack for playing low-mistake basketball, and reputation as a winner at every level he’s played at make him one of the most intriguing role-playing prospects available in the second round.”

From everything I’ve been reading, I think Papanikolaou can be a very good player in the future for the Knicks. The thing that concerns me is the “in the future” part of that. With the contracts of Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler expiring after the 2014-2015 season, the Knicks are seemingly built to win now. They have gaping holes in their backcourt and I think a guy like Darius Johnson-Odom from Marquette, who was still available, could have been a contributor this season. While Papanikolaou could potentially be a contributor down the road, I would have liked to see the Knicks try and make a move to improve in the immediate future. However, I support this decision by the Knicks. After I went back and looked at it, I’m not sure the Knicks could have gotten an immediate contributor at 48. I am going to backtrack on my immediate reaction on Twitter, in which I was quite baffled about the pick. Upon reflection, I think this was a smart selection by the Knicks.

I think the biggest reason that Papanikolaou is a Knick is that there was nobody at 48 that they liked more. Glen Grundwald seemed to echo this sentiment in his post-draft interview:

” Given where we are with our team and where we’re trying to go it’s unlikely we were going to draft anyone at 48 who was going to step in and immediately contribute. So we felt this player would be a player who can grow overseas.”

“With the 48th pick, if you look at the history of the success rate, it’s not that great. We’re happy with the pick we made and think ultimately he can contribute.” via Newsday’s Al Iannazzone

I’m okay with this. While the Knicks do lack backcourt depth, it’s not like they’re a re-building team. They’ve got the core pieces in place for the most part and they need to add complimentary pieces that can contribute now. This isn’t a New Orleans situation where stockpiling talent is of the utmost importance. New York needs players that can contribute now and they didn’t feel they could get a guy like that at 48. Given the history of second round picks, the Knicks probably made a good call here.

Also remember the Knicks are up against the hard cap. Every dollar is important and drafting Papanikolaou helps save cap space for the immediate future. In stashing the Greek over in Europe for a few years, the Knicks will be able to retain his rights without having to count his salary against the cap. Assuming Jeremy Lin, Steve Novak, JR Smith, Jared Jeffries and Landry Fields are all retained, the Knicks would have 10 players under contract. I think we can also assume that Josh Harrellson and Jerome Jordan, both on non-guaranteed contracts, will also be back, giving the Knicks 12 players.

This leaves the Knicks 3 spots to now fill their shooting guard and backup point guard holes. For example, this extra roster spot gives the Knicks the ability to potentially bring in a shooting guard with the mid-level exception as well as bring in two veteran point guards with the bi-annual exception and a veteran minimum contract. Given the fact that the Knicks did not address the backup small forward position, I believe it’s quite safe to say that Landry Fields will return next season. He along with Novak will be the backup small forwards, in all likelihood.

Glen Grundwald has a knack for playing the CBA cap rules to his advantage. I believe this is a situation where he may have done just that. New York believed there was nobody there who would contribute immediately, so the Knicks opted to draft a low risk/high reward prospect who won’t affect their roster space or cap space for a few years. The roster spot saved by this selection will end up being key as the Knicks have 3 major holes to fill, 2 backup point guards and a shooting guard that can actually shoot the ball. At the very least, Kostas Papanikolaou is a very intriguing prospect and I’ll have my eye on him in the coming years. I think he’s got potential to be a very good NBA player. He won’t be a superstar, but he can be very good. Overall, I think the Knicks made a move that was not sexy, but I think it was a correct move. They could have taken the sexier player, Johnson-Odom, or the local star, Iona point guard Scott Machado, and maybe sold a few T-shirts or trading cards, but they opted for the boring move that could end up being great in the future. For a Dolan owned team, that’s pretty satisfying. The Knicks did a smart thing tonight, and that’s something to feel good about.

Follow Taylor on Twitter @tarmosino

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