Knicks Go With Grecian Formula at 48

Spero Dedes has a perpetual smile (and if you got to live his life, you would too), but it seemed a little wider after the Knicks drafted Kostas Papanikolaou with the 48th pick in Thursday night’s NBA Draft.

Spero, of proud Greek heritage, and I were together in Manhattan filming a commercial for MSG Network (look for it next week) and we could practically hear the boos from Knicks fans rolling across the Hudson River from the Prudential Center. This is tradition, of course. Jets fans ain’t got nothin’ on you.

But before we explain why this is an intelligent move by Glen Grunwald and his staff, let’s revisit the history of the 48th pick that we laid out for you in the previous Fix. Only one player taken at No. 48 since 2000 has emerged as a bona fide NBA talent. One. His name is Marc Gasol.

The Lakers drafted Gasol in the 2007 Draft and he never played a single game for them. He remained in Spain for another season and then his rights were sent to Memphis in a deal that locked up another title for Kobe Bryant & Co. The Lakers acquired Marc’s older brother, Pau. Marc then joined the Grizzlies in 2008-09 and has since grown into an All-Star caliber center.

Fingers off the keyboard!

This is not to suggest that Papanikolaou is comparable to Marc Gasol, but it is meant to explain how sometimes it’s better to stash an asset than draft a player who may have to get cut in training camp. Grunwald said the scouting staff did not see anyone left on the board who had enough potential to be an impact player on this roster — that’s not to say players such as Scott Machado,Tu Holloway and Darius Johnson-Odom won’t make someone’s roster and we’re not here to disparage anyone — so Papanikolaou was the right play.

He will remain with his team, Olympiacos, for at least another season before the option of a buyout is possible. Meanwhile, the Knicks retain his rights and have time to monitor him, work with him and, potentially, trade him before a decision needs to be made in bringing him over.

For those who know little about him, Papanikolaou, 21, is a 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward who has a nice shooting touch and plays with a nice level of grit. He isn’t quite NBA-material on a strictly athletic level, but he is a workhorse who will defend, run the floor hard and can hit the three (sounds a lot like last year’s second-round pick, Josh Harrellson).

DraftExpress.com, which does extensive work on the NBA Draft and includes European players, listed his best-case comparable to Omri Casspi. In other words, a really nice complimentary player. On a star-laden roster, those kinds of players fit best.

But the question that remains isn’t just will Papanikolaou ever put on a Knicks uniform, but will he prove to have any value to the Knicks? Then and only then can this pick be properly judged.

CONNECT THE DOTS

This year’s first-round pick was the property of the Houston Rockets, who selected forward Royce White at No. 16 overall. It’s always an uneventful Draft when your team doesn’t own a first-rounder, but for fun let’s follow the result of trading this pick from its origin:

• Feb. 18, 2010:
Knicks traded the 2012 first round pick, Jared Jeffries and Jordan Hill to the Houston Rockets in a three-team deal that returned the expiring contracts of Tracy McGrady and Sergio Rodriguez. It cleared an additional $9 million in salary cap space for the coming offseason.

• July 10, 2010:
After signing free agent Amar’e Stoudemire, the Knicks use their extra cap space (afforded by the above deal) to sign free agent Raymond Felton.

• Feb. 21, 2011:
Knicks agree to include Felton in Carmelo Anthony trade, which results in Chauncey Billupscoming in the deal from the Denver Nuggets.

• Dec. 10, 2011:
Knicks place Billups on amnesty waivers, which clears the room to execute a three-team deal to acquire free-agent center Tyson Chandler in a sign-and-trade.

So if you follow the money, the 2012 first-round pick turned into Chandler, the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year.

SETTLEMENT ON TAP?

As we explained in last Friday’s Fix, the NBA and NBA Players Association are expected to reach a settlement in the Bird Rights case to avoid a lengthy appeal process that could disrupt free agency.

Jeremy Lin is expected to be awarded Early Bird Rights, which means the Knicks can sign him under Bird Rights rules and not have to use an exception to keep him. Steve Novak could also maintain Bird Rights as well. Huge win for the Knicks, who can use their exceptions to go after other free agents to bolster the roster.

This will make for a very, very interesting free-agency period for the Knicks. We’ll outline everything when free agency opens on Sunday.