Number 16 on the Rockets, number 1 in our hearts, Kostas Papanikolaou, known around here as Big Papa, is heading to New York City this weekend to participate in the NBA Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.
The game, previously between rookies and second-year players, then picked in a fantasy draft, now is in a USA v. World style format, with both sides having mixes of rookies and sophomores.
Initially, Feigen reported on Twitter that Big Papa was chosen as an injury replacement for Kelly Olynyk, the Canadian second-year center/forward for the Boston Celtics. However, Chris Haynes reported that Cleveland Cavalier Matthew Dellavedova from Australia has gotten the call to replace Olynyk. Both of these bits of news read as official, so it's certainly possible that both Big Papa and Delly are heading to New York, but no other player seems to have dropped out yet.
Papanikolaou wouldn't have publicly acknowledged his place in the game without something definite, but there are more pieces of this story we don't have yet. That being said, if he does play, he should turn some heads on Friday night. Rockets fans already know what kind of fun he can produce on the court:
Sure, he hasn't found his shot yet in the NBA, but his elite passing skills, court vision, and willingness to drive and kick should play quite well in a skills showcase that should be light on defense. It'll be a hoot. Wiggins is still going to win MVP of that game, though.
It's tomorrow night, Friday at 8 p.m. central on TNT.
UPDATE, from RealGM's Shams Charania:
Nuggets' Jusuf Nurkic has pulled out of NBA Rising Stars game, with Rockets' Kostas Papanikolaou replacing him, league sources tell RealGM.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) February 12, 2015