Hark back to October and recall that heading into the season, none of us had actually seen Ioannis Papapetrou play basketball. The best guess I offered in my season preview wound up being pretty close to what we would get from the versatile freshman:
Who is Ioannis Papapetrou? Right now, he's whatever you want to project him to be. That's because none of us have really gotten a chance to see Papapetrou play yet. There simply isn't any film of the Greek export, leaving us to rely on scouting reports of the few who have seen him play in person.
I've spoken to a couple people who've been around the team the past couple months, both of whom managed to elevate my intrigue in Papapetrou even higher than it already was, which is saying something. As one recently wrote me in an email:
"Knowing the kinds of players you get off on, you're going to love this kid. He's coordinated, fluid in everything he does, understands the game, and really versatile. We can use him in a lot of little ways to help us get what we're looking for. And he's got consistent mechanics, which most need help with at that age but is a bitch to teach."
Needless to say, I'm dying to talk a lot more about Big Papa, but like everyone else I'll have to wait until tonight. Again, right now Papapetrou can be anything and everything we want to project into him, but the real question will be what his warts look like. Nevertheless, based on what I do know about the kid -- or think I know -- I've got a great feeling about his ability to contribute value in a lot of different ways, and can't help but think he might be one of those players who produces value just by virtue of being on the floor.
That's about right. The Greek Army Knife was solid or better in virtually every facet of the game, contributing more value and quality minutes than you expect from most true freshman. If Papi is able to improve along a normal development curve, Texas will have an excellent college basketball player on hand for the next 2-3 years.
What The Numbers Say
Papi's numbers were actually better against the more challenging competition presented by Big 12 opponents, improving on his non-conference numbers to average 10.4 points per game on 44% shooting overall, 38% from beyond the arc, and 63% from the line, while playing about 28 minutes per game. Impressive.
Well, except for that free throw shooting. While Papi improved from his horrific start to the season at the free throw line, he still only managed to hit 63% of his freebies during conference play, which is pretty poor for any player but truly bizarre for a kid stroking it at 38% from beyond the arc. I haven't gone back to look at how he's shooting free throws to see if there's an obvious flaw he might correct, but I have done a frame-by-frame break down his excellent form shooting jumpers and there's no reason his free throw percentage shouldn't be north of 75%. My bet is he gets it fixed this offseason.
The numbers confirm the variety of ways Papi contributes value when he's on the floor -- from his underrated defense, to his ability to draw contact and get to the line, to his consistent contributions on the boards. If he can cut down his turnovers and fouls committed by 25% next year, improve his free throw shooting, and continue to score efficiently while taking more shots, he can be a quiet 2nd Team All-Conference type of player.
Was there any doubt at all what it would be? (Go to the 2:08 mark of the video.)
A sequence and a shot that no Texas hoops fan will soon forget.
Papi didn't have many horrible nights, but if there was a lowlight, then, it probably ought to be the team's loss to Chaminade in the opening round of the Maui Invitational, when Papi fouled out in just 19 minutes of playing time, or any time the Longhorns played -- who else? -- Kansas State. In Texas' three losses to the Wildcats, Papi managed just 7 points per game on 8 of 23 shooting and just 2 of 12 from beyond the arc, with only 2 assists against 7 turnovers. Like everyone else who wears burnt orange, Papi must kiss the purple ring.
Season Grade: A-
All things considered, Papi's debut season met even the more optimistic expectations, as he proved himself valuable on both ends of the floor -- a versatile player with a high basketball IQ, good instincts, and impressive physical skills. Although prone to the occasional concentration lapse and some issues with fouls, when he's dialed in Papi is a terrific, highly underrated defender. The poor free throw shooting was equally confusing and disappointing, but for the most part Papi was a pleasure to watch -- for his style of play, for the value he created, and for his charismatic personality.
Papi's ceiling isn't as high as some of the elite players, but as noted above: if he improves along a normal development curve and is able to cut to cut down both his turnovers and fouls committed by 25%, improve his free throw shooting, and continue to score efficiently while taking more shots, he can be a quiet 2nd Team All-Conference type of player next year. He's a lock to open the season as a starter and should average 25-30 minutes per game over the course of the season.