Kostas Papanikolaou has been named the 2013 Euroleague Rising Star. The award is given annually to the best Euroleague player under the age of 22. The Portland Trail Blazers acquired the draft rights to Kostas in the trade that sent Raymond Felton to the New York Knicks last year. It’s beginning to look like Portland could have a quality international player on deck in 2013-2014.
Past winners of the Rising Star Award include Rudy Fernandez and Victor Claver; both previous and current Blazers. The thing that excites me most about Kostas is his 3 point shooting. While Wesley Matthews, Damian Lillard, and Luke Babbitt all favor the 3, only Matthews is truly efficient from beyond the arc. Kostas could be a legitimate ranged threat for the Trail Blazers, as he led the Euroleague in 3PT accuracy at a whopping 52.7%! For reference, the NBA leader this year was Jose Calderon, at 46.1%.
I’m always concerned about how well European talent will translate to the NBA because there is such a large gap between the two levels of competition, so there is no guarantee that he’s ready for NBA action. However; the occasional gamble can pay off. Kostas Papanikolaou may be the next great player to come out of Europe, and the first good consequence of Raymond Felton’s time in Portland. He may never be a Dirk Nowitzki, but we can expect a Rudy Fernandez level of play, if not better.
Kostas is 6’9”, 230 lbs of ideal frame for an NBA small forward, and will be 23 by the start of the next NBA season. If the Blazers are going to bring him over, now’s the time. He’s cheap, accomplished, and eager to play in the United States. He may very well end up as the bench player many had hoped Luke Babbitt could be. Time will tell if General Manager, Neil Olshey, feels the same way.