If you’re a fan of the NBA you’ve probably heard the word ‘Greek’ being used a lot during the 2014-15 season. That’s mainly due to one man, the rising star that is Giannis Antetokounmpo, or ‘The Greek Freak’ as he has been dubbed by commentators of the world’s leading basketball league. Antetokounmpo’s strong campaign coincides with what many will say has been the most successful season ever for Greek players in the NBA. An all-time high four Greek players competed in the league this season, each of them making valid contributions that resulted in all four players’ teams making the playoffs.
Antetokounmpo displayed his fierce national pride when he brought out the Greek flag for the dunk competition
Antetokounmpo is obviously the player with the most upside, and he made the greatest strides in his second season. Antetokounmpo’s averages of 12.7 points (on 49 per cent shooting), 6.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game were vast improvements on his rookie season, and led to a selection for the World Cup team during the rookie/sophomore game at All-Star weekend. Antetokounmpo also displayed his fierce national pride when he brought out the Greek flag for the dunk competition that same weekend. He didn’t win, but let the world know that Greeks represent.
Giannis claims that his experience last summer playing for the national team at the World Cup helped him prepare for the NBA season, and it appears likely he’ll suit up for Eurobasket as well.
“This (national team) experience was nice,” Antetokounmpo said earlier this season. “I learned a lot of things, it’s a thing that makes me more comfortable so I can come in this year [to the NBA] and be more comfortable. I can’t wait to go [again] next year.”
As with all players, there are learning curves, and Antetokounmpo found that out in the playoffs. He struggled to adjust to the stifling defence of the Chicago Bulls, and finally lost his cool in the final game of the series when he was ejected for a ‘Flagrant-2’ foul on Mike Dunleavy.
Memphis Grizzlies’ centre Kosta Koufos has had an up-and-down season. The underrated seven-footer is probably a starter on any other team in the league, but playing behind Spanish All-Star Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph, finds Koufos getting sporadic minutes. During the regular season Koufos averaged 5.2 points and 5.3 rebounds in 16.6 minutes per game. However, as coaches tend to shorten their rotation once the playoffs begin, Koufos has seen his minutes fall to just 12.4 per game during the post-season. During the Grizzlies’ second-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors, Koufos is likely to see his minutes dip even further as Memphis will try to play ‘small-ball’ to match-up with the more athletic Warriors. He makes the most of his time while on-court, however, especially playing in tandem with fellow Greek, Nick Calathes.
Koufos will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and teams in need of a solid starting big man will definitely keep the centre in mind. Koufos appears ready to come out from the considerable shadow cast by Gasol and Randolph to become a starting centre, and rumour has it that the Los Angeles Lakers – with all their free salary cap space this summer – are considering signing him in the off-season. Given his impending nuptials this summer, it’s unlikely we’ll see Koufos play at Eurobasket. Calathes, by default, has become the Grizzlies’ starting point guard for their playoff run after starter Mike Conley suffered a facial injury during Game 3 of their series against the Portland Trailblazers.
Calathes had an inauspicious beginning to the 2014-15 season following a 20-game suspension for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy. Calathes tested positive for Tamoxifen, which is not a performance-enhancing drug, but a masking agent for other substances, including synthetic testosterone. Once he returned, despite playing as a third-string point guard, he showed enough for Grizzlies’ coach Dave Jeorger to install him as the starter once Conley went down. His minutes are up (16.6 from 14.4), along with his scoring (6.6 from 4.2) and Joerger credits Calathes’ international experience with being able to handle the pressure of an NBA playoff series.
“The experience that he’s had internationally has really helped him,” Joerger told NBA.com. “It’s kind of been an up-and-down year for him, but he stayed ready throughout the course of different injuries happening. He stepped in and did very well in that role.”
In Houston, a promising start to the season for former Olympiakos standout Kostas Papanikolaou was negated when the Rockets claimed Josh Smith off waivers at the mid-point of the season. Papanikolaou missed some time with injury during the regular season, but admitted trying to find his place on the team was the toughest transition. “I’m trying to find my way back,” Papanikolaou said. “I had an injury or two – it was a tough process but I’m doing great on a competitive team. I’m just trying to keep up with the work to get better, and get more minutes. ‘Papa’ will continue to see limited, if any, minutes during the playoffs as the Rockets don’t have a place for the rookie in their rotation. In spite of his sporadic court time, he was selected to play in the rookie/sophomore game at All-Star weekend in New York City in February.
*Nick Metallinos is the only Australian covering the NBA and is the content director for the website www.starting5online.com