Denver • Kosta Koufos took a long, circuitous route to NBA relevance.
The onetime Jazz first-rounder has gone from a frequent D-League designee in Utah to a bona fide starter with the Denver Nuggets, who the Jazz (2-3) face Friday at the Pepsi Center.
“He’s an extremely hard worker, and he wants it really bad,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “He worked his way into a good spot for him. I’m happy for the success he’s continued to have in this league.”
The Jazz drafted Koufos 23rd overall in 2008, and subsequently sent him to Minnesota in 2010 as part of the deal that brought Al Jefferson to Utah. The following season, Koufos wound up in Denver as part of the Carmelo Anthony trade. In January, the Greek national team member signed a three-year extension with the Nuggets.
Koufos has started each of the Nuggets’ (2-3) first five games — beating out JaVale McGee — and averages 6.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1 block per game.
He scored a season-high 14 points on Tuesday in the Nuggets’ 109-97 win over Detroit.
Koufos has seemingly come a long way since his time in Utah, when he played in 84 games and averaged 4.7 and 1.5 points in two seasons.
“I think he understands the game a little more,” Corbin said. “I think he’s figuring out who he is in this league on that team.”
Jefferson did not practice on Thursday due to a stomach virus. Jefferson, who led the Jazz with 18 points in their win over the Lakers on Wednesday, traveled with the team to Denver. His status for Friday’s game against the Nuggets will be determined after further evaluation, a team spokesman said.
Saturday’s game against Phoenix marks Veterans Night at Energy Solutions Arena. Members of the military who present a valid military photo ID at the arena box office can buy up to four tickets at half-price.
The game will include tributes to each branch of the military and a halftime performance by the Brigham Young University Air Force ROTC drill team.