Big Fish: Kosta Koufos looks to ride the wave in 2012-13

Denver Nuggets center spends summer returning to health, improving game
by Aaron Lopez

Wearing a pair of size 17 snorkeling fins, Kosta Koufos found time to enjoy the clear blue water during a recent trip to the Bahamas.

His island adventure included swimming alongside sharks, but it was otherwise much less hazardous than trading elbows in the paint with other NBA big men.

“I wanted to get some ocean time,” Koufos said. “It was nice.”

It was a well-deserved break considering that Koufos spent much of his summer in Denver working out in the weight room and on the Nuggets practice court.

Even in the Bahamas, the 7-footer made sure to stick to his routine.

“I couldn’t get away from the working out,” he said. “It was a change of pace in a different setting. It was good for the mind.”

Though training camp remains more than six weeks away, Koufos is getting his mind and body ready for his fifth NBA season. With the Nuggets stocked with big men (JaVale McGee, Timofey Mozgov, Kenneth Faried and Anthony Randolph), he knows that playing time will be at a premium.

“It’ll be fun and exciting,” Koufos said. “I look forward to it. Waking up every day, it’s going to be a battle, but that’s what I want.”

Koufos, 23, provided quality minutes in his first full season with the Nuggets in 2011-12. He started 24 games and averaged career highs in points (5.5), rebounds (5.4) and field-goal percentage (.599).

Koufos was particularly effective during a 14-game stretch from Feb. 4-March 2, averaging 7.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks.

“There’s no question that Kosta helped us win some games when we had injuries to our bigs,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “He’s one of the young guys who we hope can take another step forward next season.”

A return to full strength should help Koufos. He dealt with strained left knee during the second half of the season and was less than full strength in the final weeks of the regular season and the playoffs.

The knee injury prevented Koufos from playing for the Greek national team (born in Canton, Ohio, he holds duel citizenship), and his hopes of playing in London ended when Greece lost to Nigeria at the qualifying tournament in Caracas, Venezuela.

“I definitely wanted to play with the national team but I also wanted to be healthy for next season,” Koufos said. “Watching the Olympics, I was supporting Timofey Mozgov and was happy to see him win the bronze medal (with Russia).”

Another Koufos acquaintance, LeBron James, helped the United State capture the gold. In previous summers, Koufos frequently scrimmaged with James and other NBA players in Ohio but decided to train in Denver this offseason.

“It’s been a change of pace, but I think this was a wise decision on my part to stay here and work out,” he said. “I’ve been very happy. I’ve had a very good summer.

“My body feels great, and I just want to take everything to the next level offensively and defensively. I feel like I’ve established that. I can only get better from here on out.”