Player Preview: Kosta Koufos


Apr 10, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets center Kosta Koufos (41) reacts during the first half against the San Antonio Spurs at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

A lot has been made of Memphis’ Mike Miller signing: in our own Beale Street Offseason Discussion, the Miller acquisition came in first place as the most popular move of the offseason, and as Andrew Millen pointed out in our Mike Miller player preview, everyone really just wants to see Mike Miller make it rain threes.

In truth, it probably was the “best” signing on the offseason in the sense that it single-handedly sufficiently addressed what is Memphis’ most desperate, desperate need: three point shooting. On the other hand, let us not sleep on the draft day trade with Denver, in which Memphis sent over Darrel Arthur and a second round pick in this years’ draft for Denver center Kosta Koufos.

Getting Kosta Koufos for a basically-defunct Arthur was huge. I’m honestly not sure if I’ve ever seen a trade before that was so clearly to the advantage of one team. Memphis lucked out here: Arthur was not only a shell of his former self and talent, but Denver needed and relied heavily on Koufos, and they moved him anyway, deciding instead to put their faith in Javale McGee and — of all people — Timofey Mozgov. An interesting choice, especially considering that Denver isn’t even tanking.

Koufos is quietly one of the most efficient and impactful centers in the league. Not one of the best, by any means, but his influence on his team’s performance is huge, and his remarkable — borderline amazing — decision making and basketball IQ make up for his lack in actual talent.

Consider the following:

Of all the Centers in the league last season, Koufos had the 5th best True Shooting Percentage (FG% adjusted for free throws and three pointers), behind Tyson Chandler, Greg Smith, DeAndre Jordan, and Javale McGee, in that order. Of all those players, Koufos was second in Win Shares (wins added), 3rd in minutes, and 3rd in attempts per game. When you adjust for minutes played and pace of teams, Koufos was the fifth best rebounder in the league (by Total Rebound Rate) behind Omer Asik, Dwight Howard, Emeka Okafor, and DeAndre Jordan.

Almost secretly, Kosta Koufos was one of the best in the league at finishing around the rim last season, and one of the most impactful out of those players, and that’s no coincidence. Koufos has impeccable placement around the rim on offense; he’s always brilliantly placed for rebounds, tip ins, cuts, drop off passes at the rim, and really any situation in which he can get an easy look at the rim.

He’s brilliant at finding pockets and taking advantage. His IQ is his biggest asset, and in that sense, he has an almost Duncan-esque sense of angles and placement, even if he lacks the talent to take advantage to even a star level.

Lets take a look at some moments from the Grizzlies-Nuggets game last season, when Koufos had 18 points and 16 rebounds.

Here’s an example of his impeccable rebound placement:

He found himself in pockets like this all the time, relative to his playing time. There’s a reason he was, astoundingly, the second best offensive rebounder in the league when adjusted for playing time and pace, behind Roy Hibbert.

His understanding of angles, and the influences they make in play around the basket, are huge for his offense too. Look at the way he manipulates his position and his defender when he scores from dump-off pass from Andre Igoudala.

His cuts, too, are just as creatively precise as his rebound positioning and his post placement.

Smart offensive players like Koufos can be really huge. In regards to his offense, Koufos is basically Tyson Chandler lite: he doesn’t have the same athleticism or skills, but he has the same creativity, smarts, and pick and roll placement that makes him a threat. Precisely because he doesn’t have Chandler’s raw tools, he can’t bend a defense in the same way that Chandler can.

He can, though, give you extra points every game. Very few sets are ever run for Koufos, yet he averaged 8 points per game in 20 minutes. That’s basically 8 extra points, every game, from his sheer intelligence and work ethic. If the Grizzlies had had a player like Koufos against San Antonio, Memphis might have been harder to beat: he’s perfect at taking advantage of the kinds of double and triple teams on Gasol and others that stifled the Grizzlies’ offense.

That all only covers the offensive part of Koufos’ game, though. Here’s an amazing stat: per Synergy Sports, Koufos was the fourth best pick and roll defender in the entire league last season. Seriously.

That said, Koufos isn’t necessarily a great defender in general. He struggles against other players in the post, and he often misses his chance to clog the lane against cutters of all angles. His help defense and rotations on pick and rolls where he isn’t immediately involved (a Harden-Lin pick and roll on the baseline, for example) can be spotty too.

That said, in every lineup that featured Koufos, the Nuggets defended at least 1 point per 100 possessions better than average, which is a not insignificant increase over the course of a season.

In fact, with only the single exception of Wilson Chandler, Koufos had the biggest impact on the Nuggets’ performance on both the offensive and defensive end of the floor. While Koufos was on the floor, the Nuggets scored 108.8 points by 100 possessions, and defended at a rate of 100.8 points allowed per 100 possessions. Neither of those numbers are astounding, and give credit to the Nuggets’ bench that they posted one of the best offenses in the league with 108.8 points being the high point. Still, only Wilson Chandler made the Nuggets score and defend at better rates, and that’s a huge success for Koufos.

The best news, too, is that we can expect almost identical production out of Koufos next season. Koufos has always played relatively like a traditional center, and as such, he’s found a nice home in Memphis. The great part about his offensive game is that it’s mostly opportunistic, and that kind of game translates from one context to another incredibly well. I expect to see lots of Koufos baskets on offensive rebounds or cuts from Gasol, Conley, and even Tony Allen.

His minutes are likely to be pretty much the same this coming season as they were last season. Gasol can’t play for more than 30 minutes per game, the way he plays, which frees up at least 18 good minutes for Koufos. Add in the time that he’s likely to play PF behind Randolph, and we can expect Koufos to get roughly 20-22 minutes per game — exactly as much as he got last season.

So, Koufos should be able to perform roughly the same role, in the same time with the Grizzlies that he did last season, which is awesome, because he was pretty great last year. As far as bench Centers go, the Grizzlies have really gotten a home run with Koufos.

Hell, I imagine an Ed Davis-Kosta Koufos pick and roll may even be a real thing next season, which would be pretty cool.

I expect him to get good time, and I expect him to make a big impact. Welcome to Memphis, then.