The Rockets locked down Papanikolaou on a two-year $9.4 million contract, a big step up from the $4m dollar deal over the same period he was initially offered. With a $1.5 million buyout to pay to Barcelona, $900,000 of which would come out of his own pocket, Pap was always going to need a bigger offer to cross the Atlantic. Not that he is so-so about going to the NBA. The Greek forward has previously said he’d sacrifice money for playing time to get to the association. The need for a new deal was pretty much about value.
What Rockets fans should see in Pap is potential. The past three seasons have seen great development in the maturity of his game. The Greek announced his presence to Europe with an outstanding display in the Euroleague final in 2012. A year later he was named the league’s rising star, before leaving Olympiacos to join Barcelona.
The move to Spain should have fans interested in his defensive intelligence. While the Reds were hardly slouches on D, in Barca he worked with Xavi Pascual who is one of the smartest defensive minds in Europe. The past season looked to be as much about honing his game to bring it on to the next level. In his Euroleague title winning years with Olympiacos, his role was to supplement the stars and bring an unexpected bonus to the table. In Barca, while he wasn’t the man, there was greater responsibility on his shoulders.
The numbers are hardly mind-blowing. Over the past season Papanikolaou played 24.2 minutes per game while averaging 6.8 points on .472 FG% and .340 3PT%, with 3.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists. The Rockets haven’t signed him to be a role player, he’s got the potential to explode if handled right. We’ve already seen glimpses of what he can do when unleashed.
That was a big Top 16 win for Olympiacos over Khimki in the 2012/2013 season, where Pap went off for 21 points and 12 boards. This past season, where he won the ACB title with Barcelona, Pap showed improvements to his inside game. He’s learning to use his body more, he’s getting smarter
The one thing Papanikolaou truly needs in the NBA is time. He’s coming into a situation where the Rockets have just lost a serious contributor in Chandler Parsons who happens to be a near perfect match for Pap (6’9″/2.06m and 230lbs/104kg) in size. Even with stats not too far off Parsons last season, Papanikolaou can’t be expected to slot in and be peak-Parsons from day one. He could however be a solid imitation of early-Parsons, with about 29 minutes per game, 9 points on, 5 boards, and a couple of assists per night. That’s a level of play fans in Houston can hope for from the Greek. Come the end of this deal, it’s not unthinkable that Papanikolaou could be giving Daryl Morey a dilemma similar to when he lost Parsons.
That is something to hope for, not to expect. Pap has talent, he can go far, but he’s still feeling out his game.