Super Rookie Class has Surprise Top Players

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Photo Credit: ESPN.Com

(Associated Press)

Remember all the hype? Best rookie class since 2003? Winless for Wiggins? Sorry for Jabari?

Well, so far it’s been nothing short of disappointing but still short comfortably short of ugly for the 2014 NBA rookies.

Most impressive so far? Would you believe Bojan Bogdanovic and Kostas Papanikolaou, two international rookies –drafted in 2011 and 2012 respectively– carving out big roles on playoff contenders early in the year.

But they were supposed to be? Let’s look at these two surprises.

The Brooklyn Nets, will all their money and infinite Russian Mob cap space have bought several players over the past few seasons. Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko‘s corpse are still around, but it’s the first pick of the second round in the 2011 NBA Draft who is starting at the two guard for Broooooooklyn this year, and opening some eyes while he’s at it.

Photo Credit: Rant Sports

Born in Croatia, Bojan Bogdanovic started his pro basketball career at age 15. Bogdanovic (not to be really easily confused with Suns rookie Bogdan Bogdanovic; currently overseas) traveled well overseas before traveling to the states. He was selected 31st overall in 2011 by the Miami Heat with a pick acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves for Michael Beasley, who had been happily replaced a year prior by that LeBron James fellow.

Well as it turns out Minnesota made this pick after all, because they dealt Norris Cole –picked three spots earlier– to Miami to reacquire Bogdanovic. Then they traded Bodganovic again, this time to then-New Jersey for a second round pick and cash.

And we still haven’t figured what the **** former T-Wolves GM David Kahn was doing.

(In this draft he also traded for Chandler Parsons from Houston. Then Traded him back)

Three years later at age 25, Bojan Bodganovic is helping a really old, high-priced Nets squad stay afloat in the improved Eastern Conference. He’s started all 10 games for the Nets, averaging a seriously impressive 10.5 ppg in 30.5 mpg.

Compared to NBA standards, that path to Brooklyn was relatively standard. Kostas “Control V” Papanikolaou (as I like to call him at least) took one similar in how many times he was tossed around before landing in his final current destination.

Papanikolaou was selected 48th overall in the 2012 draft by the New York Knicks.

Sometimes that’s it for player’s careers. Drafted by the KnicksHe would persevere.

Kostas P was an absolute stud in Greece, an All-Star and a champion and an under 20 MVP. If he wanted to come to the league one day, he would play in it. However, less than a month after being drafted, it turned out it wouldn’t be with the Knickerbockers.

To re-acquire Raymond Felton from the Portland Trail Blazers, the Blazers asked and were granted the rights to Papanikolaou.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Just under a year later, he was acquired by the Houston Rockets in a deal for Thomas Robinson.

Dealing Robinson to clear cap space is what has given Papanikolaou the opportunity to squeeze into depleted roster’s rotation in 2014. Since acquiring James Harden before the 2012 season, the Houston Rockets have been predicated on building around stars, sacrificing depth in the process. That’s where the rights to Papanikolaou came in handy.

Since he’s taken to the court, they’ve become a welcome surprise. His numbers don’t tell the story, but as with most real basketball stories beyond the immediate surface, that’s not the case. Kobe Bryant‘s 23.8 shots per game though, that’s a story.

Kostas Papanikolaou has given the Rockets minutes they didn’t know where to assign entering the year. Francisco Garcia? Troy Daniels? Yikes.

“KP” hasn’t blown off any doors or even any book covers, but his 23.4 mpg has been huge for the Rockets, who have started off a red hot 9-2. He’s averaging just 4.9 ppg but has the foreign player thing going where they just contribute everywhere. He’s also giving Houston 4.2 rpg, 3 apg, a steal and just over half a block a night.

Sure, his role could come crashing down if production dips or if Houston brings in another wing player as they’re fully expected to do. (Currently there are Corey Brewer rumors) The Nets, in theory, could and should as well if they’re going to seriously consider making a run at things.

However, until then, it’s refreshing and also very cool from a fan’s perspective to see two international drafted free agents –both second round picks– being two of the top rookies coming out of a Draft Class deemed as good as it gets.