Last night, in the waning hours of the 2012 NBA Draft, I sat, waiting in the stifling heat of my father’s air-conditioning-less house, excited (likely over-excited) as the Knicks were on the clock, about to make a selection with their 48th pick. Boisterous Knicks fans packed the inside of the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, eagerly awaiting deputy commissioner Adam Silver’s announcement of one of two names: Scott Machado of Iona College, or Darius Johnson-Odom of Marquette University – two seemingly NBA-ready guards that would seemingly fit well with the Knicks.
However, those names were not announced by Silver. Instead, a foreign, nearly unpronounceable name upon first listen/glance (sounds Greek to me!) came tumbling out: Kostas Papanikolaou.
Of course, as is usually the case, the Knicks fans voiced their displeasure, booing Silver before he could even finish saying “Kostas”. Costco who?!
Across regions of the New York and tri-state areas, fans surely logged onto the internet to scout who this European mystery was. Insiders lauded the Knicks for their draft-and-stash pick; fans pondered and probed as to why the Knicks would choose a player that can’t make an immediate impact. After all, Papanikolaou won’t be available to come to the Knicks for at least one season as he’s locked into a contract with his Greek team, the Olympiacos. So why did the Knicks choose to draft him?
GM Glen Grunwald ceded that the Knicks didn’t see any picks they particularly cared for, or believed could make an immediate impact. Papanikolaou has been a highly successful player in the Euroleague and may likely develop to be a better player than anyone that was available to the Knicks at the 48th pick. Grunwald also admitted that the Knicks are looking to build through free agency this offseason. With the Bird Rights hearing likely staying in the Player’s Union’s favor, the Knicks will focus on re-signing Landry Fields, Jeremy Lin, Steve Novak, and J.R. Smith, along with adding another player or two. The Knicks need roster spots to pursue their target free agents, and it’s possible that by forgoing bringing over a pick, it could help the Knicks’ chances of using the full mid-level exception this summer.
The pick could also be considered a move to the future for the Knicks. If Papanikolaou comes over in two years, he will be 23 or 24 years old and tendered in the competitive Euroleague. At that point Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire will both be in their 30s, Carmelo Anthony will be near 30 years old, and all three will be nearing the end of their contracts. If the Knicks were to bring over Papanikolaou at that time, he could form a young, talented trio with Jeremy Lin and Iman Shumpert.
Papanikolaou is a project, and a move aimed towards the future. As frustrating as it may have been to hear the Knicks draft a player that won’t make an immediate impact; a player who most of us are unfamiliar with – it may pay off in the future.