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Kostas Papanikolaou and Jeff Adrien May Define Rockets Bench Mob

By Brett David Roberts
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Sep 29, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Kostas Papanikolaou (16) poses for a photo during media day at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Rockets made a signing this summer that kind of flew under the radar.  Actually, the team made two such signings, and both could end up paying major dividends.  The first of these was Greek forward Kostas Papanikolaou and free agent forward Jeff Adrien.

Kostas has already been featured here at Space City Scoop, when we consulted Adam Papageorgiou @Adamosgp of Magic Basketball Online.  An avid fan of his native country Greece, Adam told us that Kostas’ forte and talents lie in the realm of defense, which he excels at due to his great athleticism.  He’s also very young, and is only going to get better.

Kostas will best function as a small forward, but will be able to moonlight at power forward, most especially due to the Rockets’ transition offense.

In some senses, he is the “Greek Andrei Kirilenko,” potentially with slightly more offense even.

There’s a reason that the Rockets valued his acquisition in the trading of  two second round picks and Thomas Robinson to the Portland Trail Blazers for Kostas.

It may have been a well guarded secret by Daryl Morey at the time.

In the Rockets preseason win Thursday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Greek forward finished with nine points, four boards and three assists in 23 minutes.  While he is potentially a great defender, he told the Houston Chronicle,“I had a couple bad plays, but I know I need to get better.  I am trying to do that. I will never feel like good for myself…an athlete should never think he is great or doing something great.  You have to keep working hard.”

This attitude is refreshing on a team which features a player who’s done exactly what Kostas seeks to avoid, and that person is James Harden.  Harden had no qualms about proclaiming himself the best in the world, and Papanikolaou knows that leads to complacency, not greatness.

Kostas commented, “Playing minutes gets your confidence higher.  Getting the ball in your hands and creating plays for the others is also great for confidence.”  Having another unselfish player who likes to create for others is sorely needed on a Rockets team sometimes guilty of not sharing the ball enough, nor swinging the ball around the perimeter to create better looks.  While Houston won’t go from this attitude to the Spurs’ eight pass possessions, any steps towards furthering the cohesiveness of an offense will pay big dividends.

Apr 16, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Jeff Adrien (12) dribbles the ball as Atlanta Hawks forward Mike Scott (32) defends during the first quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

And so will toughness, which Jeff Adrien brings a wealth of.  He’s an undersized power forward whose sheer effort and hustle makes him far better than the sum of his athleticism.  Adrien is 27, but his per-minute production may raise some eyebrows.

Per-36, over his four-year NBA career, he’s averaged 12.1 points and 10.8 rebounds.  Last season in his 28 games with the Milwaukee Bucks, he averaged 10.9 points and 7.8 rebounds in 25.2 minutes per game, while starting 12 of those appearances.

The Rockets may not be counting on a 6’7” 4-man starting in the lineup, but if Terrence Jones goes down during the season, it will likely be Adrien who assumes the starting role.  Even in a reserve role, Adrien will bring a lot of energy to the second unit, which, along with spark plug Isaiah Canaan, and the dead-eye shooting of Troy Daniels; a developing Donatas Motiejunas— the Rockets will terrorize opposing benches.

That’s a best case scenario, of course, but the Rockets have lacked depth, and the second unit’s improvement is crucial towards this team taking the next step.  The Rockets met another team in the same mold in the 2014 playoffs, but Portland (despite going only five deep) prevailed.

If the Rockets can’t beat similarly constructed teams like the Blazers, there is no way they can answer to the likes of the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder…or even a 12-deep L.A. Clippers team.

The Rockets have some known commodities off the bench, but are still unsure how much to expect from each component of that unit.  Kostas has an outside shot at starting eventually, or at the minimum helping keep Trevor Ariza fresh for the postseason.

Sep 29, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Jeff Adrien (4) poses for a photo during media day at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Adrien is the kind of power forward Rockets GM Daryl Morey seeks—a guy who comes a great value and has produced well when given opportunities over his career.  Morey seeks to grab guys in a “Moneyball” like fashion, melding a team on players who have been discarded, as Adrien was.

And because of this, some of these signings go under the radar, if not entirely ignored, from national media outlets.  Kostas and Adrien may not be household names ever, but benches derive their strength not from names, but from hard work and under appreciated talent.

Quote Source:  Houston Chronicle

Statistical Source:  Basketball-Reference.com

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