Superstitious types say the No. 13 is unlucky.
Conversely, it could be said Kings center Georgios Papagiannis bears the burden of that number. It’s not only the number on his jersey, but it’s also where he was selected in the 2016 NBA draft. It was a pick that puzzled many, selecting a relatively unknown teenager from Greece who played the same position of the first-round pick from a year earlier, Willie Cauley-Stein.
The Kings also had an All-Star center in DeMarcus Cousins and veteran Kosta Koufos.
Some scouts did not have Papagiannis pegged as a lottery pick. Some would contend Papagiannis wasn’t even a first-round talent, even though in 2015 he’d been recruited by the likes of North Carolina State, Kentucky, St. John’s and Oregon.
The selection was mocked by many as the latest crazy misstep by the Kings. General manager Vlade Divac said Papagiannis had the ability to be an All-Star, even with an All-Star on the roster.
More than a year later, not much has happened to sway the doubters, who might be in a rush to deem the 20-year-old a lost cause. He averaged 5.7 points and 7.3 rebounds in six summer league games, scoring in double figures just once before his tournament ended with a bruised glute in the final game Friday.
Those are hardly the kind of numbers expected by someone selected 13th in the draft.
Yet, the Kings were steadfast in their support of Papagiannis. No one with the team ever said this would be a quick or easy process for Papagiannis, so the team remains encouraged by the progress they’ve seen, even if outsiders see no reason for optimism.
Simply put: the Kings are fine with “Big Papa” taking baby steps on the court.
“First of all, he’s young,” said Kings summer league coach Jason March. “I think people want to jump ahead because he’s big (7-foot-1, 240 pounds), he should be doing this. But he’s young and he’s learning and he’ll be the first one to tell you he’s learning through the process.”
Summer league players had too much success slapping the ball away from Papagiannis, aided by his penchant for bringing the ball below his waist around the rim. He didn’t score in two of his first three summer league games before his best showing with 17 points and 13 rebounds Wednesday.
“I know the (previous) three games everybody was hating on me, I’m pretty sure about it,” Papagiannis said after the 69-65 win over Milwaukee. “I don’t care, literally, I don’t care. I’m here for a reason. The team selected me for something so I’m just trying to prove everybody wrong, which I’m really doing.”
The reasons aren’t readily evident on the court statistically, but the Kings are looking for progress, which they believe they’ve seen. As with many international players, the speed of the NBA game can take time to adjust to. For a young big man, that learning curve is even steeper.
The Kings don’t know when everything will click for Papagiannis, but they are patiently waiting. Dave Joerger’s coaching staff is familiar with seeing that happen, having watched Marc Gasol evolve from international prospect to an All-Star who would win NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.
“It’s a process for every young player and you can’t put a timetable on someone and say he should already have it,” March said. “I think that’s the wrong way to go. We’re going to take our time with him and be patient, and he’s going to keep growing and he’s going to keep getting better. He’s got a long way to go and he can get there. I think we all see that.”
Papagiannis arrived at summer league last year with a sore knee and not in the best shape following the pre-draft circuit. Over the course of his rookie season he had to adjust his diet, something the Kings’ training staff helped him with, and he began losing weight.
That’s a process which has continued into the offseason.
“Papa looks great, his body looks great, he’s done a lot of work, but he still has a long ways to go,” Joerger said. “So to judge him right then and there (based on summer league) – and that’s the overriding theme of summer league, nobody is ever as good as they look or as bad as they look.”
Papagiannis appeared in 22 games for the Kings last season, averaging 5.6 points and 3.9 rebounds. Even with limited playing time, Papagiannis remains confident in his abilities and believes he can do more.
“When I started playing more games at the end of the season, my thing was to set screens, do the best for your team to get the win,” Papagiannis said. “... (But) every day I come in with confidence.”
Even with that, Papagiannis is still a player who would probably benefit from playing in the G League next season. With Cauley-Stein and Koufos on the team and the addition of Zach Randolph, there won’t be a lot of minutes left for Papagiannis, and he needs to play to develop.
No matter what pace it takes, the Kings are committed to seeing Papagiannis through to his potential.
“He’s going to keep growing and we’re going to be right there with him, growing, teaching him,” March said. “And we’re all in this together.”