Grizzlies reserve center Kosta Koufos is ‘ready’ to replace the injured Marc Gasol

It’s not as if this is all new to Kosta Koufos.

FALLEN GIANT --- Marc Gasol (left), the Grizzlies' second-leading scorer, sustained an MCL sprain to his left knee during Friday's loss to San Antonio. The 7-foot-1 Spaniard will be sidelined indefinitely, sources close to the team said, and six-year veteran Kosta Koufos will be Gasol's likely replacement. (Photo by Christopher Davis/MemphiSport)

FALLEN GIANT — Marc Gasol (left), the Grizzlies’ second-leading scorer, sustained an MCL sprain to his left knee during Friday’s loss to San Antonio. The 7-foot-1 Spaniard will be sidelined indefinitely, sources close to the team said, and six-year veteran Kosta Koufos will be Gasol’s likely replacement. (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSport)

Having started 81 games last year for the Denver Nuggets, Koufos said he is eager to fill in for Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, who is out indefinitely after a sprained left knee he suffered during Friday’s 102-86 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

“I’m always excited to play whenever I start or come off the bench,” Koufos said before the Grizzlies’ light workout Sunday morning at the team’s practice facility. “I’ve started many games in my career and I’ve been successful at it.”

Gasol, the NBA’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, suffered the injury to his left knee with 10:24 remaining in the second quarter of the Grizzlies loss to the Spurs that snapped Memphis’ four-game undefeated streak. An MRI on Saturday revealed that Gasol — whose 17.2 points per game is second-best on the team — has a Grade 2 sprain to the MCL in his knee and that the 7-foot-1 Spaniard will not require surgery, the team announced.

Although there is no timetable for Gasol’s return from an injury Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph said is reminiscent to the MCL sprain to his left knee that sidelined him 54 games during the lockout-shortened season two years ago, Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger told reporters Sunday he does not have any long-term concerns about the injury to his All-Star center.

“It’ll be what it’ll be and they will let us know how it heals,” Joerger said. “It’s not something I can worry about if it’s going to be three months or six months.”

While Joerger said he will not announce until sometime prior to Monday’s game versus the Houston Rockets in FedExForum on whether Koufos or Ed Davis will get the start, Koufos appears to the be the likely choice to replace Gasol, given he boasts more experience at the center position.

Now in his sixth NBA season, the 24-year-old Koufos has made 114 starts for four different teams before he was traded in late-June to Memphis for Darrell Arthur. His most productive campaign came last year when he started 81 of 82 regular-season games for the Nuggets, averaging eight points in 22-plus minutes.

Joerger said among the things he deems mostly intriguing about Koufos is his assertiveness in the pick and roll offense, one of several key attributes he sensed prompted then-Denver coach George Karl to deposit the 7-foot, 265-pound center in the starting lineup last year.

“He’s a very good pick and roll player,” Joerger said of Koufos. “(The Nuggets) were a drive and kick team. And he was very good and smart enough to know when to stay out of the way. He created and allowed guys to make plays in the gaps so he could catch it and finish. He’s played a lot on the baseline down here, like hiding, so the bigs would step up and make plays on the drive. He’s played a lot of spread pick and roll. But we’re not made that way. We’re different.”

Despite playing in a much different system for a Memphis team that has enjoyed success in recent years, in large part because of its defensive adeptness, Koufos contends he welcomes the lofty challenge of filling in for the injured Gasol.

“I’ll just play into the system and establish myself on defense, just be there to make plays, block shots, stop penetrations to the rim, and get rebounds,” said Koufos who, in 2007, was named MVP after leading the Greek 18-and-under national team to the FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship in Spain. “I want to start strong and finish strong, and whatever I can do to help the team win games, I will do that. With the mindset of coming off the bench, you know you have to do extra stuff.”

If Koufos is named the starter Monday against Houston, the first real test for the former Ohio State standout will be to stop Rockets newly-acquired center Dwight Howard, a seven-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

“He’s a great player who I’ve played against a lot,” Koufos said of Howard. “No disrespect, but he’s one of the top centers in the league. But I’m going to be ready for it.”

After all, it’s not as if this is all new to him.

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist

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