One of a number of intriguing international early entrants for the 2016 NBA Draft, Georgios Papagiannis is one of the more unique prospects among the group, having taking a somewhat circuitous route to this point. Making his first division (A1) debut in his native Greece for Peristeri at just 14 years old, Papagiannis emerged as one of the most promising prospects in his homeland at a shockingly young age. Turning in a solid showing playing up a year at the 2012 FIBA U16 Europeam Championship, Papagiannis subsequently returned to Peristeri, where he made a pair of appearances at the A1 level while playing primarily for the club's junior team through the end of the 2013 season.
It was that point where Papagiannis career took a somewhat unique turn relative to many of his peers in the international game. Making the leap across the Atlantic to attend Westtown School after averaging a double-double at the 2013 FIBA U16 European Championship, Papagiannis appeared to pivot towards college eligibility, completing a season at the small Pennsylvania based private school classified as a 2015 recruit. Splitting the subsequent spring and summer between the Nike EYBL where he averaged 8.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game and both the FIBA U18 European and U17 World Championships, Papagiannis's strong showing garnered considerable interest back in his native Greece, ultimately leading the talented young center to do a 180 and sign with historic Athens-based club Panathinaikos, though he retained his amateur status to leave open the possibility he could attend college.
Averaging 3.8 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in limited action playing alongside veteran big men Antonsis Fotsis, Esteban Batista, and Loukas Mavrokefalidis, Papagiannis played exclusively in the Greek League during the 2014-2015 season before yet another two appearances in FIBA play, this time at the 2015 U19 World Championship where he scored 8.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game, as well as the FIBA U18 European Championship, where he was named to the All-Tournament Team. Opting to turn pro and spurn the advances of the college programs that had hoped to convince him to return to the United States, Papagiannis entered this season figuring to play a bigger role and see action in the Euroleague coming off the bench. Averaging 5.5 points and 2.5 rebounds over 10.3 minutes per game, Papagiannis played a modest role, but nonetheless solidified himself as potential late first round or early second round pick.
As has been the case since he emerged as a player to watch in his early teens, Papagiannis's intrigue starts with his tremendous physical stature. Standing 7'2 with a 260-pound frame that he has toned considerably to aid his conditioning over the last year, Papagiannis is an imposing presence inside. He could still stand to continue improving his frame, but his improvement physically from last season is apparent in the way he gets up and down the floor, when motivated. He isn't overly nimble, but he runs well, has impressive explosiveness off two feet for a player his size, and is far more comfortable with the pace of the professional game than he was a year ago.
Playing a relatively small role, often asked to play hard for a single stretch many nights, Papagiannis nonetheless showed the ability to make use of his size and newly improved conditioning in impressive fashion this season. Setting solid screens, running the floor, and finishing what's created for him offensively, the massive Greek center scored with excellent efficiency, even when operating one-on-one in the post. Panathinaikos didn't lean on him to score, but he thrived at times in the role he was slated to play. Scoring 21.3 points per 40-minutes pace adjusted on 64% shooting, up from 15.1 points on 55% last season, Papagiannis's game matured quite a bit this season, even if he didn't earn extensive minutes.
His best asset offensively at this stage is his combination of size and agility. Possessing terrific hands and proving quicker off his feet than one might expect, Papagiannis is an excellent target for drop passes and lobs inside, and a good offensive rebounder when he's competing. Shooting an impressive 72% around the rim in the half court and transition combined, the young big man finishes very consistently around the basket thanks to his coordination and ability to play effortlessly above the rim. Finishing the season with more dunks than layups on the year, his ability to convert lobs off of two feet was impressive at times.
More than just a finisher, Papagiannis also found success operating one-on-one in the post, albeit in limited opportunities. Using a reliable right handed hook to score over the defense, but showing some development with his left hand as well, the young Greek's ability to carve out space with his strong lower body, coupled with solid touch and budding footwork, allowed him to make up for his lack of counter-moves and quickness on the block last season. Shooting 57% with his back to the basket according to Synergy Sports Technology, Papagiannis's interior repertoire proved brutally effective when his teammates did look for him inside.
A 66% free throw shooter who did little damage from the perimeter a year ago, Papagiannis isn't a particularly versatile or dynamic big man at this stage. He does most of his damage right around the rim, lacking a degree of variety in his offensive game. Despite that, he has a decent feel for the game and is by no means a liability with the ball in his hands, as his coordination is fairly impressive and leaves some room for optimism that he could become a threat from 15 feet down the road if he puts in the work to get there. Given his relative youth, there's plenty to like about his offensive game on the whole at this stage, even if he is a touch predictable.
Defensively, Papagiannis's outlook isn't quite as rosy. Despite his size, he doesn't play with particularly impressive toughness or discipline inside, and his sheer size works against him when he is asked to defend the perimeter. A reliable shot blocker on the youth level, his lack of great explosiveness limits his potential as a rim protector in the NBA, even if he could definitely provide some value there based on his size alone. A passable rebounder with extremely sure hands, Papagiannis's motor tends to run colder than one might hope. He certainly has the tools to hold his own in the post and rebound the ball at a stronger rate, but whether he begins to do either consistently or become a serviceable option against the pick and roll remains to be seen.
Even with his shortcomings defensively, Papagiannis is nonetheless a very intriguing center prospect. The NBA has moved away from jumbo centers in his mold, but there is unquestionably still a place for a player with his combination of size and coordination. Often knocked for his dicey motor and ability to stay engaged consistently over the years, the 18 year old showed marked improvement this season, and at just 18 years old, has plenty of upside, making him a very interesting draft and stash option.