There wasn’t a bigger disappoint last year on the Cavaliers roster than small forward Omri Casspi. Casspi, who was acquired from the Sacramento Kings before the lockout two summers ago, was shopped to the Cavaliers in exchange for J.J. Hickson. Slated to be the starting three, Casspi shot very poorly last season and saw his starting job taken away by Alonzo Gee. Now, after a revival and a boost in confidence overseas in Israel this summer, Casspi is looking to fight hard this October to regain his role in the offense.
In 2009 Casspi became the first Israeli to play in an NBA game after being drafted by the Kings at No. 23 in the first round of the 2009 NBA draft. Being born in Holon, Israel, that is where Casspi started off his professional career in basketball. Making his debut at age 17 with Maccabi Tel Aviv, the biggest sports club in Israel. Maccabi is actually one of the most high-achieving basketball clubs in the Euroleague, having won the title five times.
After winning a couple accolades, including 2008 Israeli League Sixth Man of the Year and FIBA Europe Young Men’s Player of the Year for the 2008-09 season, Casspi then decided that he was ready to make the jump to the NBA. In 2008 he declared himself, but didn’t garner any first-round looks, so he backed out of the last second. Then 2009 rolled along. Casspi got a chance to be a first-round pick and the first Israeli to be picked in the first round in NBA history.
In his first NBA season with the Kings, he flourished as a rookie. Averaging 10.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 0.7 steals, Casspi played in 77 games and started 31 of them. He had his best season shooting-wise, making 44.6 percent of his field goal attempts. He also shot 36.9 percent from three and 67.2 percent from the free throw line. He digressed his sophomore season, but improved on his three-point shooting percentage, something that the Cavaliers were interested in gaining when they traded for him two off seasons ago.
Then there was last season. Casspi shot career lows from the field (40.3 percent) and from three (31.5 percent), and never developed into the wingman that the Cavaliers wanted at the three. He got a chance to start 35 games for the Wine and Gold, but Gee soon emerged as a force off the bench and seized every minute that he was in the game. Casspi’s shooting struggles persisted, as head coach Byron Scott claimed that he wasn’t knowledgeable enough of the playbook. If coach Scott doesn’t think you’re working hard enough, then you’re definitely going to see a decrease in playing time.
We saw a different Casspi this summer, however. In helping his team qualify for the EuroBasket 2013 tournament, he was the star of the team. In the ten games he played in this summer, he averaged 19.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.5 assists and played 31.7 minutes. He shot a staggering 60.0 percent from the field and 52.1 percent from three, numbers that the Cavaliers would absolutely love to see this season. Getting confidence back in his shot was the No. 1 priority that the Cavaliers were looking for in Casspi improvement-wise. His best game came against Estonia, in which he played 38 minutes and scored 26 points on 10-of-12 shooting.
I believe that we will see a different Casspi this season. His hot streak will continue into training camp, and he will prove to be a formidable bench player or even surprise everyone with regaining his starting spot. Despite rumors that he was going to buyout his contract, Casspi decided to stay positive while overseas.
“I love Cleveland,” Casspi said to an Israeli newspaper over the summer. “They gave me a lot, I owe them a big one.”
Hopefully he owns up to that promise.