Omri Casspi and Gal Mekel will play their first games of the 2013/14 NBA season
on Wednesday night.
The start of the new NBA season
couldn’t have come soon enough for the pair of 25-year-old
After three frustrating seasons following a bright rookie
campaign, Casspi is finally in the position to prosper following his signing
with the Houston Rockets this summer.
Mekel, meanwhile, has an
opportunity to make an impact with the Dallas Mavericks despite being undrafted
and virtually coming out of nowhere to ink a three-year deal.
Casspi averaged just 4.0 points on 39 percent from the field in 43 appearances
for the Cleveland Cavaliers last season, the Rockets recognized what he could
bring to their team and his preseason form has exceeded all
In seven preseason games, Casspi has averaged 13.2 points,
hitting 55 percent of his field-goal attempts and connecting on 33 percent of
his shots from beyond the arc, while grabbing 5.1 rebounds per
Following the acquisition of Dwight Howard, the Rockets are
looking like a real force in the West. James Harden already proved last season
that he is one of the best players in the NBA and coach Kevin McHale has a deep
and versatile roster which seems capable of going far in the
Casspi fits perfectly into McHale’s uptempo system and ESPN.com
senior NBA writer, Marc Stein, believes the Israeli forward has found a perfect
landing spot in Houston.
“I’ve been trying to tell anyone who’d listen
for years that the NBA would see the best of Omri Casspi when he finally made
his way to an elite team that could use him as a role player and play to his
strengths,” Stein told The Jerusalem Post.
“That’s exactly what’s
happening in Houston. But you have to give the Rockets extra credit, because
they saw Omri as a potential power forward.
He’s barely played that
position in his first four seasons and certainly isn’t a traditional power
forward, but it works in the Rockets’ wide-open offense. They saw it before any
McHale has also been pleased with Casspi’s improvement on
“He’s getting better [defensively] all the time,” the coach said
earlier this month. “[He] has been rebounding the ball so well and hustling all
“There is nothing not to like about what I have seen from him
Preseason performances often need to be taken with a grain of
salt due to their relatively meaningless nature.
Nevertheless, Stein is
confident that Casspi’s form in recent weeks will translate to the regular
“I don’t think the preseason success was a mirage. I’m convinced
he’s going to be a consistent contributor for the Rockets,” he
“Getting drafted by Sacramento in the first round and becoming the
first Israeli to actually play in the NBA were obviously huge achievements, but
for the first time since he left Maccabi, Omri’s in the right situation with a
winning organization. And you can immediately see the difference that makes in
Stein explained exactly what makes Casspi and Houston such an
“The Rockets obviously never imagined that Omri’s preseason
would be as good as it was, but they really did think he’d fit into their system
perfectly,” he said. “You need shooters around Dwight Howard to give Dwight the
space he needs down low, but those shooters also need to be able to defend,
rebound, run the floor and make quick decisions off the catch to make Houston’s
game plan work.
“Omri can do all those things and, as a bonus, is long
enough and hardnosed enough defensively to masquerade as a power forward. He’s
really hard for bigger fours to keep up with and works well alongside the
Rockets’ traditional big men [Howard and Omer Asik.]” While Mekel’s
circumstances are quite different than Casspi’s, he surely would have jumped up
and down with glee had, as recently as six months ago, you offered him his
current position with the Mavs.
Mekel started in Dallas’ first four
preseason games as the team’s three other top point guards, Jose Calderon
(hamstring), Devin Harris (toe) and rookie Shane Larkin (ankle) were all out
Mekel, who led Maccabi Haifa to the BSL championship
last season, was relegated to the bench after Calderon returned for the final
four preseason games, but still received significant minutes as a
Mekel averaged 6.1 points and 4.8 assists during the preseason, with
his biggest concern being the 3.2 turnovers he registered per
Nevertheless, Stein is optimistic regarding Mekel’s chances of
settling in the NBA.
“I’m obviously excited beyond words to see an
Israeli playing in the city where I’m based and I’m pleased to report that Mekel
is ahead of schedule,” said Stein. “The Mavs signed him to be a long-range
player they could develop over time and here he is already starting his first
NBA season as a backup to a great role model in Jose Calderon.”
the turnovers, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle is extremely pleased with the progress
being made by Mekel.
“He’s probably learned more in the past three weeks
of basketball than he’s ever done in his life,” Carlisle said last week. “Just
because the game is so different and so new, and the athletes are so much
quicker and faster.
“If you look at the stats he’s got a lot of
turnovers. But he’s made big improvements and I just see him getting better and
The eventual return of Harris will in all likelihood cost Mekel
precious time on court, but until that happens, the Israeli will have every
opportunity to prove his worth.
“Gal’s minutes might end up being sliced
somewhat when Devin Harris makes it back from a foot injury in December or
January, but all the October injuries in the Mavs’ backcourt created a great
opportunity for Mekel to play more minutes and get more reps in the preseason
than Dallas was ever planning,” Stein explained.
“And I think all that
exhibition experience is going to pay off and speed up Gal’s transition to the
NBA game, which is always a challenge for players coming over from Europe,
especially point guards.”
It promises to be an intriguing season for the
Israelis in the NBA, or as Stein put it: “My advice to Israelis who love
basketball and will be traveling to the States in the near future: Get yourself
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