Kostas Papanikolaou will be coming over to America and playing for the Houston Rockets next season, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.
Rockets have today struck a deal to bring Kostas Papanikolaou to Houston
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) August 8, 2014
Rockets had Papanikolaou’s draft rights but had to employ their mid-level exception to finally bring the two-time Euroleague winner to NBA — Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) August 8, 2014
ESPN sources say Papanikolaou’s deal with Houston is for $4.8 million this coming season and contains $4.6 million team option in 2015-16
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) August 8, 2014
The Rockets had been trying to bring over the big Greek shooter earlier this offseason, but were rebuffed in their previous attempts as they tried to keep their mid-level exception. Now that the free agency market has dried up, the team decided that giving most of their mid-level to Papanikolaou made sense in order to get another body.
The Rockets acquired Papanikolaou from the Trail Blazers in the Thomas Robinson trade in 2013.
Our own Rafael Uehara recently wrote about Papanikolaou on his own blog, BasketballScouting. Here’s what he had to say about the Greek small forward.
Kostas Papanikolaou’s first season with Barcelona wasn’t as productive as expected. The big Greek wing was brought in to be a star role player as a 3D specialist and was paid as such but was merely average.
He contributed the most on offense as a spot-up shooter. Like most left handed players, Papanikolaou doesn’t angle his body straight towards the basket but rather motions himself on a 45 degree angle. He has a natural stroke and an average trigger. Not noticeably better from the corner than above the break, he got good looks sharing most of his playing time with Marcelinho Huertas, Juan Carlos Navarro and Ante Tomic but hit only 34 percent of his 159 three-point attempts in 1,720 total minutes. That was particularly disappointing considering he hit 46.2 percent of 186 three-point attempts in his last season with Olympiacos.
Papanikolaou showed a good first step to attack closeouts, decent speed for his size on straight line drives, and flashed good instincts passing out of dribble penetration – averaging 2.6 assists per 28 minutes in 655 Euroleague minutes – but he strongly favors driving left and was also sloppy with his handle, dribbling the ball higher than a player who stands at six-foot-eight should. His 18 percent turnover rate was sky high in the context of his 15 percent usage rate. An average contributor on the glass, Papanikolaou mostly got within close range in transition and via weak side cuts. He is a fluid runner in the open court, can finish strong (though wasn’t much of a target for lobs) and proved himself very smart diving to the basket when Tomic and Joey Dorsey shorted their rolls. Forty-one percent of his shots in the Euroleague were at the rim and he scored at a 71.2 percent clip.
But due to his below average three-point shooting, Barcelona scored significantly better without him on the floor at almost seven points per 100 possessions more with him on the bench in each league.
Papanikolaou contributed the most on defense by leveraging his athleticism as an asset in rim protection. He was an aggressive help defender and then showed good speed to closeout on shooters. Putting his leaping ability and eight-foot-eight standing reach to use, Papanikolaou ranked third in the Spanish league and sixth in the Euroleague in block rate among small forwards, aside from grabbing almost 15 percent of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor. On the ball, he struggled navigating picks due to his large 230-pound frame and was only average playing the passing lanes to try manufacturing turnovers. Barcelona allowed five points per 100 possessions fewer without him on the court in the Spanish league.
Papanikolaou will obviously be expected to contribute immediately to the Rockets, at least as a bench player that can come in and provide space for the slashing of James Harden and the post game of Dwight Howard. This deal acts essentially as a highly-paid one-year tryout. If Papanikolaou performs well, he’ll be kept for next season and probably be considered a large piece of the Rockets’ future. If not, he’ll most likely move back over to Europe.
Regardless, this seems like a solid deal for the Rockets. Either they have a good role player that will help them win, or a solid trade asset to go acquire someone at the deadline if they need to with his non-guaranteed salary for next year.