Omri Casspi smiling 248.88 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
PALOALTO, California - The hot summer sun was shining, the music was blasting, the fans were cheering and for the first time in his life, his jersey had a number other than "13" on it. In a moment, the Israeli swingman had gone from Omri Casspi the rising star at Maccabi Tel Aviv, to Omri Casspi, Sacramento Kings forward.
Just weeks after the whirlwind of flights between Israel and the States, tryouts for numerous NBA teams and an emotional draft night that saw him become the first Israeli-born player ever selected in the first round of the National Basketball Association Draft, Omri Casspi has a busy summer ahead of him.
Although many analysts suspect that Casspi will return to Europe for another season before becoming the first Israeli player to play in the NBA, Casspi has expressed his desire to join the league this coming season.
For this to happen, he needs to show Kings officials that he is more than just the very athletic forward with largely untapped potential.
While these same attributes were what convinced the Kings that Casspi was deserving of guaranteed money, they will not be enough to guarantee him a spot on the Kings roster this coming season. Although the Kings are very high on Casspi and would like him to be on the roster next season, Casspi will have to show the toughness that he displayed during his pre-draft workouts while facing other rookie opponents, in order to prove himself.
This battle for roster spots will begin Friday at the NBA's Summer League in Las Vegas. It is here that 21 NBA teams and a squad made up of the NBA's top minor league players will do battle, and it is here that Casspi will have the chance to prove himself amongst stronger and more experienced NBA hopefuls.
While Casspi showed his physicality and toughness during a pre-Draft workout that sent eventual 15th pick Austin Daye to the hospital for stitches, he needs to show that he is quick enough to defend NBA forwards, able to create his own shot and able to succeed in a more up-tempo, physical style than he is used to.
As anybody who has followed an NBA Summer League knows, the players are there to earn roster spots, and therefore work on what the scouts and assistant coaches want to see.
Big men fight to be the best rebounders, point guards attempt to assert themselves as leaders and pure passers and shooters work to create their own shots off the dribble.
As a result, the basketball is not always the greatest and the player's statistics are usually inflated.
Yotam Halperin for example, entered Summer League looking for a roster spot after being drafted by the Seattle Supersonics 53rd overall in the 2007 Draft.
Although he had decent numbers during Summer League play, passing the ball effectively while leading his squad to a 2-1 record, they were not enough to earn him anything more than a additional chance to battle for an non-guaranteed spot during training camp.
Point guard Jerryd Bayless who was selected 11th overall by Indiana in last year's draft before being traded to the Portland Trail Blazers only averaged 4.3 points and 1.5 assists in 12 minutes of play in his rookie campaign after averaging a whopping 29.8 points per game on 48.5% shooting on his way to earning Summer League MVP honors.
While the general consensus is that Bayless has the skill set and work ethic to turn into a good NBA point guard, and the Portland Trailblazers even traded away their starting guard to get Bayless more minutes, he is a glaring example of how little Summer League statistics usually translate once the season starts.
However, for players like Casspi who are just trying to make the squad and avoid a season in Europe, it is the unquestionably the best scene to show the NBA that they are ready to join the league.
Additionally, as a first-rounder Casspi has a leg up on many of the second-round picks and undrafted free agents, a luxury that Yotam Halperin did not have as a second-round pick.
Look for Casspi to take advantage of the tenacity he has brought out when he has needed to, en route to a successful Summer League. He should put up good numbers across the board, making shots, pulling down rebounds and hustling for loose balls.
What's next for Omri Casspi?
The most important five games of his young NBA career. Will he show the Kings staff enough in Summer League to warrant an invitation to training camp and a roster spot, or will he return to Europe for another season with an even brighter future ahead of him?
Only time will tell. After all, this is history in the making.
Joseph D. Robbins will be reporting live from Summer League in Las Vegas. Follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/josephdrobbins, and be sure to check his blog "Robbins Rants" at http://www.robbinsrants.com for live updates from Summer League.