Kostas Papanikolaou’s Learning Curve Promising


Nov 4, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Houston Rockets forward Kostas Papanikolaou (16) is pressured by Miami Heat forward Shawne Williams (43) during the first half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Kostas Papanikolaou was expected to be a work-in-progress this season. Where that work would begin, no one was quite sure. Thus far, through five games, it has appeared it won’t be far from the mark of a rotation player, even initially.

Kostas has posted a PER of 11.6 (a 15 is the league average), while contributing across the board. Thus far, the Greek product has averaged six points, four rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.2 steals and just 1.8 turnovers per game, in 24 minutes a night.

Several things stand out here:

First off, this is a rookie already getting half a game’s play.

Secondly, how does a foreign player enter the league, a new team, a new game style and entirely new surroundings, and commit under two turnovers per game given 24 minutes?

The only conclusion is that Kostas is an exceptional talent.

It’s not the numbers here, but what he has done in flashes. In the win over the Utah Jazz, his four consecutive triples changed the game. His drives to the basket look natural, his passes to teammates unforced. It all looks as though Kostas has been around these guys for months, and he hasn’t.  He had his season-high of 12 points against Utah.

Maybe more impressively, he has had a well-rounded eight point, five assist, seven rebound and two block game in the 108-91 win over the Miami Heat.  During that contest, he made great decisions with the basketball, committing no turnovers despite heavy action within the offense and accounting for 18 points (between scoring and assisted baskets).  That kind of understated line might remind some Rockets fans of a guy named Chandler Parsons.

Oct 22, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Houston Rockets forward Kostas Papanikolaou (16) reaches for a loose ball with Orlando Magic forward Maurice Harkless (21) in the first half at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

…He committed six turnovers in 23 minutes against the Boston Celtics. Against the Philadelphia 76ers, he managed just three points and three boards in 20 minutes.

So, the inconsistencies there are to be expected, and are a product of being both a rookie and an international player.

His rapid adaptation to the NBA has rendered the likes of Francisco Garcia a non factor (he hasn’t played at all), and when Houston goes small, Kostas is the 4-man, enabling him to back up either Trevor Ariza or Terrence Jones.

He’s a versatile player whose length can render him a stretch-4, which will only further drive up his value as an NBA commodity. It’s not as though the Rockets will be actively looking to trade a player who already could be both a bargain and a star in the making.

With Ariza off to a red-hot start (60 percent triples?), it’s going to be difficult to find any more minutes for Papanikolaou than what he has seen thus far.

Jones has been playing superb ball as well, averaging 14 points and 7.5 points, but to be fair, inconsistency has continued to plague Jones.

There’s not really any need to speculate at this point; let’s just sit back and watch the evolution of what could be a special talent within a few seasons.