Kostas Papanikolaou was at the rim for one of the greatest chase-down blocked shots in EuroLeague history and he has been terrorizing opponents with the threat of a rejection from behind ever since. Blessed with a lanky frame and fantastic wingspan, Papanikolaou is one of the league’s toughest defenders at the small forward position and has a knack for making his blocked shots of the spectacular variety.
The EuroLeague Rising Star Award winner for the 2012-13 season, Papanikolaou’s blend of energy and physical gifts saw him debut in the competition as a teenager and become a key player when Olympiacos Piraeus came from behind to stun CSKA Moscow in the 2012 EuroLeague championship game in Istanbul. He led the Reds in that game with 18 points. One year later on the same stage in London, Papanikolaou and teammate Kyle Hines trailed the action by two steps on a Real Madrid fast break midway through the third quarter, but they swooped from behind to reject Nikola Mirotic and change the momentum to set up an Olympiacos victory. Though Hines was credited with the block on the play, Papanikolaou’s defensive tenacity has remained a highlight of his multi-faceted game.
A chase-down block by Papanikolaou is not something fans can expect to see on a nightly basis; he has recorded 87 rejections over 237 games in his 10 EuroLeague seasons – all but one of which have come in an Olympiacos uniform. Only four times has he blocked as many as 10 shots in a season. However, when a team is on the break, they always know that Papanikolaou is lurking and his presence alone has caused many a player to forgo what may appear to be an easy 2 points and instead pass the ball or settle for setting up a halfcourt play.
The same foot speed, athleticism and timing that has made Papanikolaou an ace at chase-down blocks has also served him well in coming over as a help defender to block shots or steal balls. Combined with an effective three-point shot and a quick first step and long strides that allow him to sidestep defender and drive baseline for a slam, Papanikolaou’s defensive prowess has made him a true force for Olympiacos over the past decade and a player that opponents will be watching out for in years to come.