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Rockets: Rookie Kostas Papanikolaou has a ‘Natural Feel’ For Basketball

By Brett David Roberts
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Oct 14, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Houston Rockets forward Kostas Papanikolaou (16) is defended by New Orleans Pelicans forward Darius Miller (2) during the second half of a preseason game at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans defeated the Rockets 117-98. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Kostas Papanikolaou has shown some great ball instincts and a smooth, natural feel to his game. His signing may not have resounded around NBA circles, but he is quickly proving he is going to be a valuable cog this year for the Houston Rockets.

As with all rookies, he’ll need some polish, but that is because this is a major gem that Rockets Daryl Morey has Houdini’d us with once again.

In his first game while he was held to four points scoring, he boarded well, grabbing six rebounds, and he also came up with a pair of steals. But it was the eye test that made this impressive, certainly not just the summation of numbers.

Papa dished the ball accurately and well and appeared as though he had been playing with his teammates for far longer than the couple months he has.

On one inbound pass he found a wide-open Jason Terry for a corner three, doing so quickly and without a moment of doubt. His four assists seem almost low considering he had a couple “hockey assists;” that is passes that lead to a secondary easier pass that gets the assist. His role within the offense never looked forced, nor awkward.

Papa has exceptionally quick feet and a great first step, and this is almost surprising because he was originally hailed as someone whose calling card was mostly defense. It wasn’t that he couldn’t score, but as a young emerging talent overseas, other guys simply usurped those opportunities, probably due to seniority. He will have every chance in the Association to prove his value, and though Trevor Ariza is playing great basketball, there will be chances to play the two together against smaller teams. Papa looked great when putting the ball on the floor, and it is very evident he may one day serve as a great point-forward. A Toni Kukoc-like ceiling is not beyond the realms of possibility.

In Game #2 against the Jazz, Kostas nailed four three point shots, and shined alone in the second unit. The rest of the Rockets bench was 2-of-9 from the floor for seven points. After Kostas’ four triples, the Jazz ended the quarter on a 10-0 run.

He can’t do it all himself, and the talent around him in the second unit is going to have to improve.

Things got better: Howard and Harden would check in with the Rockets ahead by five points with 10:30 to go in the fourth. From that point onwards, it was smooth sailing. Terrance Jones went on a one-man 5-0 run with a triple and dunk in transition. The lead was back to double digits.

Howard picked up his fifth foul bumping into Derrick Favors on an and-one, and the Rockets remained ahead by 12 with 3:16 to go in the game. Howard then fouled out at the 1:33 mark, but the game was well in hand with a 13 point lead at that point.

Oct 21, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Houston Rockets forward Kostas Papanikolaou (16) is pressured by Miami Heat forward Danny Granger (22) during the second half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Kostas still played just 22 minutes in his second NBA game, but that may be about all that can be figured with the Rockets having Ariza ahead of him.

Trevor is a big-minute player, and a lot of Kostas’ minutes may have to come from Terrence Jones’ minutes, as well. He played the most of any Rockets’ bench player in the win over the Jazz, and that is a trend that will likely continue.

It is also worth noting that Papa faced foul trouble in both games, picking up five in each contest. This isn’t surprising because adjusting to NBA defense will prove trying at first.

European ball is a lot more oriented towards a lot of jumpshooting and soft pick and rolls or soft screens. The intensity of a lot of lateral movement will result in him reaching more, but that is something he’ll learn as the season goes on.

At this point, it’s unlikely he would have been playing 30 minutes had he avoided fouls, so it isn’t really an issue that needs to be over amplified so early in the season.  Eventually, this kind of talent evolves into a starter.  It’s clearly evident that his ceiling is very high and Morey scouted this one out very well.

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