Kosta Koufos: The Best Grizzlies Draft Pick Since Mike Conley

Koufos Dunk - USA TODAY Sports

On a night when most of the NBA searched for productive, young players they hoped would take their teams to the next level, the Grizzlies acquired a 24 year old center who has already proven he belongs.

Earlier in the day, Grizzlies GM John Hollinger quipped that his oft-cited MACHINE may make a trade while he wasn't looking. If that's the case, then Shout Out to that Machine! On a draft night when very few teams were able to get better immediately, the Memphis Grizzlies did just that. The Grizzlies traded Darrell Arthur and the 55th pick to the Denver Nuggets to acquire Kosta Koufos, a player who was the starting center on the 4th best regular season team in the NBA.

Firstly, I would be remiss if I didn't say this. Darrell Arthur is a fine player. When healthy, he was put upon the Earth to destroy Pick and Rolls on defense. When healthy, he was a part of my favorite Grizzlies play of all time. Hold on. Let me fire up the Internets. There we go. I'll just leave this here:

When healthy, he is a fantastic energy big, and has a combination of athleticism and size unlike any other player on the Grizzlies squad.

"When Healthy." Aye, there's the rub.

Enter Kosta Koufos. The 24 year old big - only 1 year older than the center-from-Louisville-whose-name-David-Stern-kept-butchering, and perhaps the same age as Shabazz Muhammed - was the least flashy of the 3 headed big man monster the Nuggets threw at opponents in the paint this year. Koufos has never averaged more than 8 points per game. He has never averaged more than 7 ballboards, and has only played over 17 minutes per game once in his career. So what's to like about the player Charles Barkley refers to as "Cous Cous."

Well, quite a lot actually.


Koufos was a player I planned on endorsing the Grizzlies acquiring in a future post, and Darrell a player I endorse trading. With the presence of a more productive player (Ed Davis) and a younger, cheaper player with potentially comparable skills in Jon Leuer, it makes sense that Darrell is the odd man out even before you factor in his history of freak injuries.

Kosta Koufos is why we have stats.

Kosta Koufos is why we have stats. The eye test tends to linger on posterizing dunks, game winning shots, incredible blocks. Koufos won't be doing any of these things. But the eye test, as we all know, fails to take in every single thing that happens in an NBA game. And Kosta Koufos does quite a bit that helps teams win.

So what does Koufos do? First of all, he rebounds at a high rate. Koufos was Denver's 2nd best rebounder overall last year. And he is a beast on the offensive glass. In collecting 13.3% of available offensive rebounds, he ranked 8th in the NBA. When compared against Darrell Arthur, Koufos collects about 60% more total rebounds than the player he is replacing.

Besides rebounding, you generally expect your bigs to block shots and shoot a high percentage. How does a career 54.9% shooter and 2 blocks per 36 mins sound to you? Not sure? Then let me put it a different way.

Only 7 players in the NBA collected 17% of available total rebounds, while also blocking 2 shots per 36 mins last year. Among them: Tim Duncan, Joakim Noah, Larry Sanders and Derrick Favors. Only 3 other players did this while also shooting over 54%. One of them was Dwight Howard. The other two: Deandre Jordan and Kosta Koufos.

Another way to measure Koufos' impact is to look at Denver's lineup data from last year. I did this a bit HERE in my George Karl piece. Denver's most used lineup last year featured Koufos at Center surrounded by Lawson-Iggy-Gallinari-Faried. This lineup outscored opponents by 7 points per 100 possessions. Simply swapping out Koufos for Javale McGee (Denver's 4th most used lineup) made that plus 7 plummet to minus 10. Simply swapping McGee for Koufos cost Denver 17 points per 100 possession! This is slightly misleading since only 4 of Denver's top 20 lineups were outscored last season, and is actually more indicative of how bad McGee was. Still the drop off is so huge, and the samples so large, these numbers are too meaningful not to share.

Koufos also fits in spacially with the Grizzlies best player. Where DA and Marc are both most effective at the top of the key, Koufos is strictly a paint patroller (although playing Zach and Koufos may be a bit more problematic). Last year, 94.1% of Koufos' attempts were in the lane. 87% occurred at the rim. For reference, these rations are Tyson Chandler-esque (Chandler-ish, Chandlerian? One never knows with these things). Earlier in the day, we heard Coach Joerger pronounce he wanted layups. He just got them.


Perhaps most vitally to the Grizzlies, Koufos is cheap. Due just $3m in '13-'14 and a team option for another $3m the following year, Koufos actually makes slightly less than Darrell Arthur, while having a longer contract (the final year of DA's contract was a player option).

If the Grizzlies lose anything in this transaction, it's a bit of matchup flexibility when going against 3 point shooting bigs (Ryan Anderson comes to mind). Still, if pressed, the Grizzlies can employ Tayshaun Prince as a stretch 4 if Ed Davis and Koufos can't cover. Playing alongside ZBo or Ed Davis is a bit problematic, but Jon Leuer may be able to soak up 10 mins a game to stagger minutes with the less skilled bigs.

To recap, the Grizzlies just traded Darrell Arthur for a more productive player on a longer, cheaper deal. Koufos slides into a position of need behind Marc Gasol and immediately becomes the best backup center in the league. The Grizzlies cleared minutes for another productive player, Ed Davis. And they achieve all of this while SAVING about $600k over the next 2 years. All it cost was the 6th to last pick in the worst draft in the last dozen years. I don't think I'm climbing out on a limb by calling this trade a win.

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