Late Thursday night, in the weird, waning hours of a 2012 NBA Draft that went way more quietly than expected, the Knicks were finally on the clock with the 48th pick and we were all pretty certain what they would do. New York, we knew, had two clear goals in mind: find a guard, and make it someone who had a chance of contributing this year. Since we're fools to think we know such things, the Knicks went ahead and did nothing of the sort. They picked a forward — six-foot-eight 21-year-old Kostas Papanikolaou of Greece — who is guaranteed to stay overseas for at least one more year, and maybe two if a buyout can't be negotiated after this season.
It seems that New York wasn't thrilled enough with any of the domestic guards to warrant using a pick on one and felt confident enough in their ability to supplement the backcourt via free agency to think further ahead with the 48th pick. Two draft-day developments support that logic: Earlier in the day, it was revealed that the league and union were nearing a settlement that would reinstate the contended Bird rights of Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak, meaning the Knicks should have real money to spend in free agency. On top of that, the Knicks seemed to suspect that a number of their favorite guards would drop all the way out of the draft and become free agents themselves. Indeed, the night ended with guys like Iona's Scott Machado, Georgetown's Hollis Thompson, and Mississippi State's Dee Bost — just three of many interesting names — left unclaimed and available for signing. So, the Knicks still need to add guards before next season, but they're convinced they can do it through free agency and didn't feel desperate enough to invest a second-rounder (non-guaranteed money, mind you) that way.
But anyway, who the hell is Kostas Papanikolaou? From the sound of things, he's quite a promising basketball player. Knicks fans booed the pick before Adam Silver had even finished the first syllable of his name (We don't do well with unfamiliarity. We don't do well with familiarity, either. We just don't do well), but those in the know all approved of the selection. DraftExpress — a fine crutch for those of us who don't follow the Euroleague — compares Papanikolaou to Omri Casspi and describes him as an "average athlete with an excellent feel for the game, good fundamentals, and terrific maturity." Read on, and you'll learn of a big, smooth forward who isn't spectacularly nimble or bouncy, but scores proficiently and busts his ass in all other aspects of the game. Jay Kang of Grantland recently turned up a video of Papanikolaou that illustrates much of the above. The kid's pretty impressive on film and reminds me more of a present-day Danilo Gallinari (as opposed to the reedier, sweeter-shooting version of Gallo that joined the Knicks as a rookie) than of Casspi.
Now, Papanikolaou might never play for the Knicks. He's already had an exceedingly successful career in Greece — his team, Olympiacos, were Greek and Euroleague champions this season — and doesn't necessarily have incentive to push for a buyout next summer, or even to come over when his contract expires in 2014. The best we can do now is keep an eye on Olympiacos and try to catch the Greek national team in London this summer. Conveniently, Papanikolaou is joined by the more veteran Georgios Printezis — whose rights are also owned by the Knicks — on both squads.
So, in short, Glen Grunwald opted to play the long con with the Knicks' lone, low pick last night. New York didn't enlist a rookie for immediate use, but they did lay claim to a youngster who should be a waaaaay better asset than the rest of these second-rounders in a few years. Or he might never cross the Atlantic. With such a late pick and nobody more accessible that really tickled the Knicks' fancy, it was a small, calculated risk to take, and one that could save the Knicks a tiny bit of money this offseason. For now, the focus turns to free agency, which begins on Sunday.