By his own admission, Georgios Papagiannis says his initial transition to NBA basketball from Europe was tougher than he thought, and after spending time going back and forth from the Sacramento Kings to their development league affiliate, the Reno Bighorns, Papagiannis feels like he’s finally turned a corner.
“It’s been better than last year,” he tells Neos Kosmos.
“It’s way easier than the transition of coming from Europe to here – it’s way easier for me basketball-wise – and I’m going to keep working hard every day and wait until it is my time to play.”
After an impressive pre-season campaign with the Kings, in which the young Greek played all four of their games and averaged 9.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per contest, Papagiannis might have expected to have more of a featured role this season, but he has appeared in just six of Sacramento’s regular season games thus far.
Rather than have Papagiannis sit on the end of their bench behind other more established veterans – including Papagiannis’ Greek national teammate Kosta Koufos – the team elected to routinely send him to their affiliate squad to play quality minutes.
Papagiannis says he understands the Kings’ motives.
“The main purpose is actually to improve all the things I’m working on here with the Kings, he says. “When I go to Reno [the D-League team] I can put it all to use in a live game. It has helped me a lot.
“You always have to be ready no matter what. Even if I play D-League still I have to be ready whenever my name is called. The D-League gives you an opportunity to go there and play and to get ready for the NBA.”
The Kings have had high hopes for Papagiannis since trading for him on draft night in 2016. Papagiannis is a very talented big man, with a soft touch around the basket, but is still very raw in terms of his overall development. One advantage he has is that he has the full support of Sacramento’s front office who have placed no pressure on him at all to develop at a faster pace.
One of the key figures supporting Papagiannis has been Kings’ GM Peja Stojakovic – an NBA champion with the Dallas Mavericks, and someone who is very familiar with Greek basketball after spending some years with PAOK.
Stojakovic has been impressed with the development he’s seen so far from ‘Pap.’
“I think he’s learning how to play, I think he’s learning the pace of the NBA game,” Stojakovic said.
“He has great potential on both ends, I think game experience is what he’s lacking, but you can say that for every young player that comes into the league these days. In his case, he hasn’t played a lot of basketball – even in Greece he was coming off the bench and his role was minimal before we drafted him.
“We like his progress, we believe in his potential, he’s going in the right direction, and at some point he’ll get a chance to show that on court.”
Stojakovic says he has sensed some frustration at times from Papagiannis, but he believes that if he follows the path the team has set out for him, it will benefit him in the long run.
“Nothing is easy in this life, and it’s not easy being an NBA player – it requires hard work, it requires dedication, and he understands it,” he says.
“I can see in him that he wants it for him to happen much quicker, but you can’t jump the process. You have to stick to it, and you have to keep working on your game.
“He’s a big part of our organisation and at some point he will get an opportunity to showcase his talent.”