This is a guest post by Sacramento Kings fan, David Ford.
By the time the Sacramento Kings were making the 23rd pick in the 2009 draft, they already looked like one of the winners of the night getting a player like Tyreke Evans. He was NBA-ready and one of the best pure talents available.
Then came the selection of Omri Casspi, the small forward from Israel. If you were to ask any casual NBA fan who this player was, chances are you wouldn’t find anyone who knew of him.
Casspi is the 21-year-old who played just 13 minutes per game for Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Euroleague. He was looked at as a work-in-progress who had the potential to be a nice role-player for the team that drafted him. Chad Ford of ESPN.com said, “He’s a very tough, scrappy, slashing player. He’s not a shooter yet and he’ll need to put on some pounds.” For a young team like the Kings, Casspi was going to get minutes to prove himself but it was unknown what kind of impact he would have so early in his career.
Fast-forward to the regular season. The Kings are 34 games in, have posted a 14-20 record after 17-65 the previous season and are one of the surprises of the league. Casspi has also proven to be one of the surprises of the rookie class. He has season averages of 13.2 points and 4.7 rebounds while playing 27 minutes per game. As the season has progressed, so has Casspi.
In December he stepped up his averages to 14.1 points and 5.0 rebounds in 29 minutes a game. He also had four games where he put up at least 20 points.
Since the new year, Casspi has continued to step up his play averaging 23.0 points and 8.0 rebounds. This is the kind of production coming from a work-in-progress rookie.
What has been the most surprising is how well he is shooting the ball from the field. He’s averaging almost 50% on his field goals and an even more impressive 47% from three-point range. I thought Casspi was, “not a shooter yet”? Even more surprising are the negatives on Casspi’s draft profile back in June. He supposedly had “poor shot mechanics” and “lacked deep range.” Looks like he’s doing alright thus far.
You could argue that the new attitude Casspi has brought to the Kings has been just as valuable as the numbers he’s putting up. He brings intensity that has been missing from this roster for far too long. He’s aggressive on the offensive end and fearless on defense. Just in the last few weeks Casspi has been given the task of guarding Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony. He’s been scrappy, pesky and effective on each one of them. A rookie from the Euroleague is not supposed to be able to stay in front of the greatest players in the world.
Casspi continues to be the spark behind the Kings and their most reliable shooter when they need a basket. Without injured Kevin Martin on the floor, the Kings don’t have that shooter to drain the long shot when they need it. Evans is their most potent scorer but does most of his work around the rim. Casspi has given the Kings a legitimate deep threat while Martin continues to recover from his broken wrist.
Game after game this season, Casspi has given the Kings that much needed three-point shot, fast-break dunk, fearless defense and aggressive style of play that is needed. Seeing Casspi pound his chest and yell to the rafters after making a big play has been a common occurrence for the Kings.
With his play over the last month, Casspi has worked himself into the Rookie of the Year discussion. Currently, ESPN.com has him ranked third behind his teammate Evans and the Milwaukee Bucks Brandon Jennings. Despite being ranked third, you could argue he has played better than any rookie the last couple weeks. If he continues to play like he has, it wouldn’t be crazy to see him take the award away from Evans or Jennings, who are currently looked at as the front-runners.
Back in June when the Kings made Casspi the 23rd pick in the draft and the first NBA player from Israel, not many people knew his name. Not only is he now creating buzz around Sacramento, he’s beginning to make his presence felt throughout the rest of the league.
The Kings should feel extremely lucky Casspi fell all the way to their pick late in the first round. If the draft was done over today, you can guarantee he wouldn’t have fallen out of the top ten picks. Since that isn’t going to happen, the Kings can continue to reap the benefits of one of the most talented rookies in the league and the steal of the draft so far.