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Summer League Blues

The Kings are winless in three games and their #13 overall pick has struggled. What does it mean?

Its Summer League. The guards are selfish. The wings can't shoot. The big men are raw. Every year, we watch some pretty horrible turnover and foul-prone basketball mining for nuggets of brilliance from young kids getting their first taste of NBA action. And yet, every year there are overreactions on both ends of the spectrum.

So, too, is the case with one Georgios Papagiannis. The Kings' Summer League team has lost all of its games and Big Papa's statlines have been utterly unimpressive. What does that mean for the #13 pick going into this next season and beyond?

To be honest, nothing.

Summer League isn't a time to gauge the overall worth of any prospect. Being a great player in this setting has meant very little at the NBA level. You only need to look at past Summer League MVP recipients to realize that Summer League stardom has a spotty track record in the pros.

That's not to say that Summer League is a complete waste of time. Its a good opportunity for NBA prospects to get a feel for how their skillsets stack up against NBA-level athletes and defensive schemes in an NBA-style offense. If a team is expecting their prospect to be a pick-and-roll stud at the next level, its a problem if they struggle to run pick-and-roll competently in Summer League.

Keeping that in mind, its important to zone-in on how Papagiannis is struggling in the past couple of games because its a good indicator of what he can and can't do at the next level this upcoming season barring massive improvement. Its also important for the sake of his career development to hone in on what he needs to work on to be a contributor at the NBA level.

From what I've seen, Papagiannis doesn't have a good feel for offense with the ball in his hands. He's not very good in the high post looking for cutters and his jumper has looked weird. In the low post, Papagiannis moves at the speed of a glacier, taking way too long to gain far too little ground on his defender. So far, he's also struggled with his touch around the rim, going 0/7 in the last game against New Orleans. A few times his reaction to the ball just hasn't been quick enough, which is probably an issue with concentration.

On the other hand, its not like Papagiannis has been worthless in every respect. His defense has been solid; he rotates adequately and uses his size really well around the paint, making it tough to score on when he walls up around the basket. He's rebounded at a solid rate, grabbing 5 in 18 minutes against Houston (10 per 36 minutes) and 6 in 19 minutes against New Orleans (11 per 36 minutes). He gets up and down the court nicely, even against the pacey Alvin Gentry-style Pelicans.

My impression of Papagiannis is that he's only hurt the Kings when he's had the ball in his hands. It seems as though a visceral reaction to a European big man struggling in the easily noticeable ways is coloring the overall opinion of what he can do. The truth is, at the next level he won't have to worry about his on-ball game as long as his role is properly defined. Struggling to make reads with the ball in the high and low post isn't a death knell on Papagiannis' ability to be a backup, even right now. Just look at Willie Cauley-Stein, who has looked just as bad as Papagiannis in a creating role; its not like these struggles invalidate the entire season Willie showed as a productive rim-runner and defender.

The touch around the rim is potentially worrisome, but so far its just been one bad game. Against the Rockets, Papagiannis was 4/7 from the field for his 8 points. In 23 games appearing for Panathinaikos, Papagiannis shot 66/97 (67%) from the field. I'm not worried until it becomes a trend.

The bottom line is that its too early to write off Papagiannis completely as a contributor, even for the following season. The Kings have been rumored to have been shopping Kosta Koufos; so far, Papagiannis' specific struggles in Summer League shouldn't mean scrapping whatever plans they already have. The determination of whether Papagiannis can contribute this upcoming season should have been made a while ago, and the needle definitely should not have moved based on how Papagiannis has struggled in Summer League.

Its ok to be concerned. Its ok to feel like drafting Papagiannis was a mistake, and it might even turn out to be still. But the proof is not in what Papagiannis has done in Summer League. That truth will have to wait. There are still at least two games left in Summer League, and the best way to watch it is to block out the white noise for what really matters.