Papagiannis ends Kings' Tech-less streak: 'I'm not going to back down'

Papagiannis ends Kings' Tech-less streak: 'I'm not going to back down'

SACRAMENTO -- The streak is over. After amassing a stunning 29 technical fouls before the All-Star break, the Sacramento Kings made it 23 games without one heading into Tuesday’s contest with the Phoenix Suns.

Then things got messy.

Rookie big man Georgios Papagiannis got tangled up with Dragan Bender of the Phoenix Suns and the 7-footer didn’t back down. In fact, he was ready to take on the entire Suns team as they walked into his personal space.

“It happened, I was trying just to get my hand out of [the grasp] of Dragan and he just turned around, he came to my face,” Papagiannis said. “I had to protect, first myself, and then I saw three players from the Phoenix Suns come to me - I’m not going to back down. If you want to have a fight, we going to have a fight.”

Before the Kings could even respond, the 19-year-old giant was nose to nose with not only Bender, but Sacramento native Marquese Chriss as well. The end result was double techs for each Papagiannis and Bender and a separate technical for Chriss.

The Kings players have seen this side of Papagiannis before. Not one of them in the locker room was shocked.

“I’m not surprised actually, honestly, Pop’s crazy,” Willie Cauley-Stein said. “You’ll see. Pop’s mean, yo. You’all see.”

Ty Lawson, who went off for his first career triple-double in the game had a similar thought on the rookie from Greece.

“He’s a little hot head, especially when someone’s bumping him and stuff like that,” Lawson said. “He’s not going to let anyone punk him, ever. Probably of anyone on the team, he would be the first one [to get a technical], I would have put my money on that.”

“It’s a good thing,” Lawson added. “You don’t want to be punked by anybody and stuff like that. You get that reputation in the league and it sticks with you. I’m glad he actually did that.”

Garrett Temple rushed in to play peace maker and had a front row view of the near scuffle. It wasn’t the fact that Papagiannis was in the middle of the situation that surprised him, it was the clarity of the language from the center.

“I had no notion that Papa was soft by any means, but it was good to him - he was speaking perfect english too,” Garrett Temple said. “I was there right under him hearing exactly what he was saying. You learn those words first I guess in the other language.”

No punches were thrown. No one was ejected. Just a good old fashion NBA standoff, complete with giant men going chest to chest with very little chance of actual punches being thrown.

Papagiannis finished the night with 13 points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes of action. He’s shown more and more of his personality in each of his 15 appearances since the trade that sent DeMarcus Cousins to the Pelicans and freed up time for him in the post. On Tuesday night at Golden 1 Center, he gave the fans a glimpse into what the Kings have seen behind the scenes.

“They know really what I am,” Papagiannis explained of his teammates. “I may be quiet sometimes, but you know, they say all the quiet persons, they just have a fire inside them.”

 

Instant Replay: Kings come up short in battle with Lakers

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USATSI

Instant Replay: Kings come up short in battle with Lakers

BOX SCORE

It looked like a rookie/sophomore game Friday night at Staples Center as the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers faced off for the last time in the 2016-17 season. It was a spirited affair, but in the end, the Lakers found a way to win on their home floor, coming away with the 98-94 victory.

Julius Randle used his strength advantage to abuse the Kings in the post. The third-year big finished the night with 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting and added six rebounds for the Lakers. 

No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft, Brandon Ingram, shook off a slow start to score 14 points on 6-for-14 shooting. Jordan Clarkson added 12 points and six assists and former King Thomas Robinson chipped nine points and five rebounds as the Lakers pulled away late.

Welcome to Tinseltown Mr. Cauley-Stein. Sacramento’s second-year big put on a show for the Kings, playing tremendous basketball on both sides of the court. The 7-foot center finished the night with 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in 22 minutes of action.

Rookie Skal Labissiere looked like he was trying out for the slam dunk contest. The smooth shooting big score 19 points on 8-for-13 from the floor and added three rebounds and two blocks in the loss.

Darren Collison started after sitting the previous game. The veteran point guard shot 5-for-7 from the field on his way to 15 points and a game-high 10 assists. 

Buddy Hield struggled from the field early, but still managed to drop in 17 points on 7-for-14 shooting. Georgios Papagiannis added 10 points and 10 rebounds and Ben McLemore went for nine off the bench as the Kings moved to 31-48 on the season.

STANDOUT PERFORMER

Labissiere continues to show he’s ready for the NBA stardom. The 21-year-old forward has big league potential. 

TURNING POINT

The battle of NBA babies came down to wire. Los Angeles went for the win late, gaining the lead in the final three minutes and holding on for their 24th victory of the season. Larry Nance Jr. hit a free throw to give LA the two-point lead with five seconds remaining and the Kings couldn’t come up with the play to even the score late.

INJURY UPDATE 

Kosta Koufos sat for his fifth straight game for planned rest. Ty Lawson and Garrett Temple sat as well as the Kings’ season winds down. Rookie Malachi Richardson is officially out for the season with a right hamstring thickness tear. Rudy Gay is out for the year with a torn left Achilles. 

WHAT'S NEXT 

The Kings return home following the game where they’ll face off with MVP candidate James Harden and the high-scoring Houston Rockets Sunday afternoon at Golden 1 Center. 

Papagiannis carving out niche by focusing on one undervalued skill

Papagiannis carving out niche by focusing on one undervalued skill

“With the 13th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Phoenix Suns select Georgios Papagiannis,” commissioner Adam Silver announced on draft night.

The 7-foot-2 Papagiannis wasn’t an invite to the draft, but he sat in the stands wearing an impressive blue suit, waiting for his name to be called. He stood, hugged those around him, walked to the podium and shook hands with Silver, not knowing that he was already a Sacramento King.

Vlade Divac took plenty of heat for the selection. Why take a another center when you already had DeMarcus Cousins and Kosta Koufos on the roster? Why not take Wade Baldwin or Denzel Valentine at 13? Both players were available and the fan base had already bought into the selections.

It was a pull from left field. It was Peja Stojakovic over John Wallace. It was “He-d-yat Tur-ko-glu, who plays for the Efes Pilsner team in Istanbul Turkey.” It was a Geoff Petrie-esque move. Divac went with his scouting report over everyone else's and came away with a mountain of a boy.

Now, Papagiannis isn’t ready to live up to highwater marks of Peja or Hedo, but he is showing signs of life late in his rookie season and he might even give Divac a little bit of street credit when it comes to drafting foreign-born players.

After spending most of the season with the Reno Bighorns of the D-League working with Darrick Martin and his staff, Papagiannis is beginning to show his potential with the Kings in the post DeMarcus Cousins era. He can pass, shoot, rebound and has soft hands for a man his size, but so far in his rookie campaign, Papagiannis is showing an undervalued skill that might make him worthy of his high selection in the 2016 NBA Draft.

Before we get into the analysis, it should be noted that the 2016 NBA Draft is proving to be one of the worst in recent history. Only two players, Milwaukee's Malcolm Brogdon (10.3 points per game) and Sacramento’s Buddy Hield (10.1 points per game), are averaging in double-figure scoring on the season. It will take time to prove out the class, but the early returns are historically bad.

In 12 games since the All-Star break, the behemoth center out of Greece is averaging a modest 5.9 points and 4.4 rebounds in 17.5 minutes per game. He’s shooting 51.4 percent from the field and posting just over a block per game in his limited minutes.

Since his ascension to the rotation, an intriguing trend has developed. The Kings, without Cousins, Rudy Gay, Matt Barnes and Rudy Gay, have become a very good 3-point shooting team. While players are knocking down perimeter shots, many of them understand that Papagiannis is playing a role in the team’s 41.2 percent shooting from behind the arc over the last 21 games.

“Papa sets great screens,” Garrett Temple told NBC Sports California. “That’s big for a guy that’s only 19-years-old, to understand his role.”

It seems like such a small nuance to the game, but for a team like Sacramento that has struggled to find spacing for the last couple of years, having a big that is unselfish and frees his teammates for open shots is huge.

“I really like the fact that I’m going to make a screen for my teammates and they’re going to make the shot,” Papagiannis told NBC Sports California. “That’s what’s giving me motivation every time to set really good screens for them.”

Veteran point guard Ty Lawson has enjoyed the freedom to roam around the top of the key. He’s had plenty of breakout games since the All-Star break and Papagiannis has played a role in that. Lawson has seen this trend before and points to a specific reason for the rookie’s advanced understanding of setting picks.

“Normally players overseas, that’s what they do, they set great screens,” Lawson said. “Their plays that they do over there are more about the angles of screens and where they want the players to go. For him to come over here and do something like that at the speed of this game is pretty amazing.”

Papagiannis agreed with Lawson’s assessment. He began playing professionally in Greece at the age of 14. If he wanted to earn minutes, it wasn’t going to come as a scorer. Before his 17th birthday, Papagiannis signed with Greek powerhouse Panathinaikos, where his development continued.

“I got used to it the last three years when I was playing in Greece,” Papagiannis said. “My team was very cool about screens and I had really great passers on my team. As a young guy, they told me, set a really good screen for me and I’m going to get you the ball.”

While he has plenty to work on, the 7-footer takes pride in his ability to help his teammates free up for open looks. It’s a way that he can contribute as he refines the rest of his game.

“I’m trying to get the screener as far away from my players so they’re going to have more space to work with,” Papagiannis added. “I like it. It gives me fun, because they’re going to make the shot and that’s how we’re going to win the game.”

Papagiannis has a tremendous base, but it’s more than just getting in the way. He almost always positions himself in a way that the defender has no other option than to go over the screen, clearing the way for his guards to either pull up or make a run at the hoop.

He hasn’t mastered the art of the roll off of the screen, which Temple said that both he and Lawson have been working on. With the quality of screen he is setting, the defense is overplaying the guard trying to catch up, leaving Papagiannis a clear run to the hoop. Once he learns to let the screen go earlier and attack the basket, he will become a dangerous option in the offense with his size and ability to finish.

On the other end of the court, Papagiannis is still learning defensive calls, which leads his teammates into trouble.

“He’s a great screen setter, but sometimes if you don’t talk, I run into screens on the other end to,” Temple said. “He’s done a great job over the last two or three games of being a lot more vocal, so the progression is good to see.”

Temple pointed out that following games, especially on the road when the team boards a flight to a new city, the young players, including Papagiannis, have their iPads out studying the previous game. They ask questions from the veterans and they are always listening.

“They are receptive to teaching and coaching, that’s one of the biggest things,” Temple added. “They have to understand what they don’t know. Their time on the court and then learning, watching film, they are going to learn by doing that.”

Papagiannis is a work in progress. He still bites on the pump fake on the defensive end. He needs to redefine his body even further in the offseason and the speed of the NBA game is something he will have to continue to adjust to.

The tools are there. He is mobile. He has very soft hands and a soft touch from 20 feet. His passing skills are advanced for a player his age and he can both rebound and block shots.

It’s been a whirlwind season for the rookie big man, but he is showing signs that he belongs in the league. He is getting an opportunity to get his feet wet at the NBA, like fellow rookies Skal Labissiere and Buddy Hield.

“Everybody is having fun with the way we’re playing right now,” Papagiannis said. “We’re playing unselfish basketball. Everybody is passing the ball, we’re really enjoying playing with each other and the environment is great.”

It will take time to judge whether or not Divac made the right choice with the 13th overall selection in the 2016 NBA Draft. If Papagiannis can develop under the tutelage of Dave Joerger and big man coach Bob Thornton, the Kings might have found another piece to their young puzzle. If not, at least they know they have a big that will come in and do the dirty work, even in limited minutes.