Sacramento Kings rookie Georgios Papagiannis has seen his minutes increase since the All-Star break and has proven he belongs in the NBA.
After spending most of the first half of the season with the Reno Bighorns, the 7’1’’ center from Greece has shown an impressive ability to set screens for his teammates, notch double-doubles and even throw some nice passes. Over the last 12 games he is averaging nearly 8 points 5 rebounds, 1 assist and close to 1 block in 20 minutes per game. He has impressed beyond his numbers, however, showing strong court awareness.
We recently caught up with Papagiannis. Below are excerpts from the interview.
Where is your comfort level at right now?
I'm really comfortable right now with the team. I'm getting playing time in every game and it gives me the opportunity to get more comfortable with the team. This is the team I am going to be with next year so it's like a base from this year for the next year. We're going to be in Summer League together and everything is good.
Who have you have learned from the most here?
Coach Bob [Thornton] helps me a lot on the court and during film sessions and coach [Bryan] Gates, coach Larry [Lewis] - actually every coach here has helped me a lot, but coach Bob is like the most help for me guy on this team besides Kosta [Koufos] and GT [Garrett Temple], AT [Anthony Tolliver] and all these players.
What have you gleaned from him (coach Thornton) that you have added to your game?
Obviously, I'm a big body, he's trying to help me when I'm supposed to put my body into the defender so I can get easier points and just trying to teach me the easiest ways because most of the time I'm the biggest body on the floor so I can get in front with that so I can get points from it.
I recently heard you talking about how you used to play all these sports, including tennis, and then you realized basketball was it for you. When did that click for you?
I started getting taller and taller and my father used to play basketball for a lot of years so it was kind of like an obvious thing for me to play basketball. Basketball is the only sport that I really love ... I started playing basketball around 11.
Were you always just naturally bigger than everyone else so you played center every time or were there other positions you played when you were younger?
I was always a center. When I was 13 they would try to put me at the 4 and then I changed things and they just put me at the 5 again ... I'm good with playing the 5.
How difficult has it been switching from the European style of play to the NBA?
The first three months was hard. It was very different, like it's a way different playing style ... D League helped me a lot to improve on that.
What is the main thing you had to change with your game for the transition?
The body … And then it's like you have to find the ways for you and for your team to get points and then help on defense as most as you can.
How much weight did you lose?
It’s a lot of weight. It's different, I'm a whole different player right now ... it was a lot of working out, a lot of games in the D-League.
How do you think you, Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere complement each other on the floor?
Us three, we have a great chemistry with each other. We want everybody to help the team because us bigs we want to give the best of our ability for our team to win. Since August, we're working out us three together and we have great chemistry, great environment.
You have been showing signs of how well you can pass as well. Has passing always been a part of your game?
When I was on the Greek National Team every summer they would put me in the post and have a player always to wait for a three-point shot and it's like, I love passing the ball to my players to get easy baskets. So, I'm trying to do everything on the court I can to get my team to win.
How are approaching rebounding right now?
The first games that I was playing more minutes I got more rebounds, but now sometimes they are going to put me in pick and rolls and it’s hard sometimes to go and get the rebound. Or other times … I have to stay out of the paint because I was kind of like a 4/5 player and if I don’t get the rebound I was trying to box out my player so Willie gets the rebound and that’s great with me. If we get the rebound it’s great for the team.
You guys recently played in New Orleans, did you have a chance to catch up with DeMarcus Cousins a little bit?
Yeah, I talked to DeMarcus and he was one of the guys who helped me a lot here. I thanked him for the help he gave to me.
What do you want to add to your game this offseason?
Get bigger, stronger, faster, that's going to be really important for next year. And just my low post game, my shot and then my defense stuff structural - I'll try to do everything.
You guys have lost games, but it seems like you are competitive. How positive is that?
We are a competitive team. You saw it against the Rockets ... even with just two games left, there's really good energy on the team.