Mystery surrounding the development of Georgios Papagiannis will persist as long as he’s unable to crack the Kings’ rotation.
He’s a 7-foot-1, 240-pound center in a league that plays smaller and faster, so there are nights where it doesn’t make sense for the Kings to put him on the floor.
But injuries and lineup changes can dictate when the second-year center from Greece gets playing time, as he did in Sunday’s 108-93 loss to the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre.
Zach Randolph (rest) did not play and two of the Kings’ 7-footers, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos, were in the starting lineup. That left Papagiannis, the 13th overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft, as the only available reserve center.
He played a season-high 12 minutes and had four points, four rebounds, a blocked shot and a turnover. It’s just the sixth game he’s played in this season.
Toronto starts Jonas Valanciunas (7 feet, 265 pounds) at center, the kind of physical matchup that makes sense for Papagiannis. But going against the second unit, Papagiannis had to chase big men who are more fleet-footed than Valanciunas, like Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam.
“I thought he struggled tonight, but he’s a young player and he’s going to keep getting better and he’s putting in his work,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “Just got to play him.”
Randolph will return to the lineup Tuesday in Philadelphia, bumping Papagiannis down in the rotation.
Most of Papagiannis’ playing time comes with the Kings’ G League team. He’s averaging 14.2 points and 10.2 rebounds in six games with the Reno Bighorns.
The Kings will use the Bighorns as a way to get Papagiannis playing time that isn’t available with Sacramento, except in cases like Sunday.
“The G League has helped me a lot,” Papagiannis said. “First of all, you get all the playing time and you get into situations that you’re going to be in here, and that’s very helpful. Besides that, when I’m not there I’m working out with Coach Bob (Thornton) and Coach Phil (Ricci) every day, both offensively and defensively. We keep getting better every day and I’m going to look forward to my improvement.”
The intrigue around Papagiannis has a lot to do with where he was drafted and who was the roster when he was drafted. In 2015, the Kings drafted Cauley-Stein and signed Koufos as a free agent. The team also had an All-Star center in DeMarcus Cousins.
So the thinking was Papagiannis had to be a special talent for general manager Vlade Divac to invest a draft pick on him. Then Papagiannis struggled in the 2016 summer league, played sparingly last season and also struggled this past summer.
With Koufos, Cauley-Stein and Randolph able to play center, there isn’t much playing time for Papagiannis. He said not knowing if or when he’ll play with the Kings is not a problem.
“In this league, you have to be ready every time,” Papagiannis said. “When coach calls your name, you have to be ready, whenever it is.”
There’s no certainty when that next time will be for Papagiannis. He feels more prepared to take the floor at any time.
“It’s way different, it’s way easier this year,” Papagiannis said. “I know what I have to do on the court to help my team win or help the team be the most successful I can help them to be. And the transition is way easier to be in the spots, defensively and offensively.”
There figures to be a point this season when the Kings play their older players less and give players like Papagiannis more time.
That happened last season, after Cousins was traded. This season is largely devoted to improving the inexperienced players.
It’s just not feasible to expect all of the young players to see time at once, nor do the Kings want to throw young players on the court who aren’t ready to play extended minutes, so Papagiannis is practicing patience.
“I’m working out with my coaches every day,” Papagiannis said. “And I’m waiting until it’s my time.”