Draft day was fun for Memphis Grizzlies. They had just three mid-late second round picks, and they didn’t even buy into the first round, as they had been rumored to have been considering. Instead, they swung a trade, sending forward Darrell Arthur and the draft rights to the 55th pick, French big man Joffrey Lauvergne, to the Denver Nuggets for center Kosta Koufos.
Koufos started at center with the Nuggets but played in more of a timeshare role, averaging 22.4 minutes per game. He joins the Grizzlies’ bench, slotting in behind our own starting center Marc Gasol. The amount of playing time he received in Denver as a starter versus the minutes he’s likely to play off of the bench in Memphis doesn’t figure to differ drastically, and I have to imagine the Grizzlies are excited to have added young size like Koufos.
So, just who is Kosta Koufos?
The 24 year old Greek American was drafted out of Ohio State back in 2008 by the Utah Jazz with the 23rd overall pick. He was never much of a factor in Salt Lake City, and after two years, the Jazz shipped him to Minnesota as part of a package for Al Jefferson. Koufos spent less than a season with the Timberwolves and was involved in the Carmelo Anthony megadeal which sent him to Denver. In that season, he was mostly a non-factor as well. It was the season after where he took a step forward and joined the Nuggets’ rotation. Following the midseason trade that sent Nenê to Washington for JaVale McGee, Koufos emerged as the new starter at center, and had remained a fixture in that spot until he was dealt to us.
Where does Koufos’ appeal to the Grizzlies lie? Well, let’s start with his height, which is where it all starts. Koufos is 7’0″ tall–a need for the Grizzlies’ bench as their reserve big men had been the 6’10″ Ed Davis and the 6’8″ Darrell Arthur prior to the trade. Koufos adds a 265 lbs frame to his height, and as the weight would suggest, Koufos is a pretty strong guy down low. He’s a natural fit for the grit-and-grind nature of the Grizzlies. And, interestingly, Koufos is a deceptively quick guy. Even lugging around that big body of his, he runs surprisingly well, although he won’t be outrunning Mike Conley any time soon.
Continuing with the somewhat surprising aspects of Koufos as a player, he plays a bit of a finesse game offensively. He doesn’t power into the paint like a Dwight Howard would, but instead, Koufos takes advantage of his soft touch through hook shots, layups, and tip-ins. The strength is visible when Koufos finishes through traffic and he’s capable of ripping down a dunk on the defense, but his offensive game is mostly predicated on finesse shots.
One of Koufos’ favorite moves is a running hook shot. It’s very hard to block because of his size, and he has the touch to be able to knock it down consistently. Watch this example, which demonstrates Koufos finishing the hook shot perfectly even after a slight bump from the defender.
Don’t mistake Koufos for a go-to weapon offensively, however. Koufos is a good offensive player, particularly at the rim–he shot 58.1% from the field this season and made 67.9% of shots right at the basket, per Basketball-Reference. However, he’s not the type to actively seek out his own shot, as even per 36 minutes, Koufos averaged just 12.8 points. Many times, he simply lurks around the basket, waiting for defenders to help off of him so that he’s open. Watch how Koufos would take advantage with the Nuggets:
Many of Koufos’ baskets come simply from defensive breakdowns, just like that one. Even that, however, would come in handy alongside the dribble penetration of Mike Conley and the presence of talented big men like Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
While he’s no LaMarcus Aldridge, Koufos is certainly solid offensively. He won’t change a game with his scoring, but with his well-polished offensive game and his low-volume/high-percentage scoring, he can be counted on for a decent amount of points per game.
If Koufos is solid offensively, then he’s outstanding on the glass and on defense. Per 36 minutes, Koufos averages 11.1 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. That production would put him 5th on both the NBA’s rebounding and shot-blocking leaderboards. Koufos has a 103 defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions), collected 17.3% of all available rebounds, and blocked 4.4% of shots while he was on the floor. Only ten other big men in the NBA were able to match or top those metrics (see the complete list here).
If JaVale McGee was the flashy, thunderous shot-blocking center in Denver, then Koufos was the subtle and sturdy good ol’ reliable. Defensively, Koufos’ length and height makes it very difficult for teams to shoot over the top. He understands the quirks of the game, like making the proper judgments as a help defender. Watch this defensive play where Koufos helps away from Marcin Gortat at the right time, and bothers two consecutive shots with his length without fouling.
As a rebounder, Koufos is very tough to stop because of his understanding of good rebounding position combined with his strength and size when boxing out and going up. On the offensive end, his rebounding often translates into tip-ins and putbacks for him. Again, he’s very good at establishing position, and combined with his soft touch and ability to finish through contact, it’s not very easy to stop Koufos if he grabs the offensive rebound. This next example shows this, and also showcases Koufos’ mobility running up the court.
Koufos’ biggest flaw may simply be that he doesn’t do enough. He contributes well in all areas, but it’s hard to count on him to go that extra mile and be the game-changer a superstar would be. That said, Koufos is a top notch role player, and Memphis made a great decision in adding him to supplement their bench. He understands his role, and that’s the type of team player every winning team would benefit from.
With defensive coach Dave Joerger in, it’s going to be interesting to see how Koufos will be used. With Denver, Koufos had a borderline genius of an offensive coach (a mad scientist, perhaps) in George Karl. Koufos has the skillset to be a valuable asset to both coaches, on both ends of the floor. However, it remains to be seen just how effective he will be.
No doubt, Grizzlies fans will be looking forward to it.