Sinai Says: Casspi's superb preseason form bodes well for NBA

Sinai Says Casspis sup

By
October 28, 2009 05:38
3 minute read.

 
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Just one month ago it seemed all but certain that Omri Casspi's biggest achievement of the season would be a symbolic one - becoming the first Israeli to play in the NBA. However, when the 21-year-old makes his official NBA debut in the Sacramento Kings' season opener at the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday, he will be doing so as a legitimate roster member, something few people believed possible when he was selected 23rd in June's draft. Yours truly was among many in the Israeli media and beyond who felt it would be a huge surprise should Casspi play regularly for the Kings this season, even though the franchise is coming off its worst season ever. I still have my reservations, but must admit that the forward deserves every credit for entering the season in what is nothing short of a dream position. Far from being a Euroleague star last season, Casspi not only needed to settle in his new surroundings in Sacramento, but also improve his athleticism, which was average by NBA standards, not to mention his perimeter shooting and passing ability. Despite a summer of rigorous training, he still has plenty of work to do to become a more complete player, but he has already improved his game significantly and exceeded practically everyone's expectations in the preseason. In seven preseason games, Casspi averaged 11.7 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 21 minutes on court, scoring an impressive 52 percent from three-point range. He began the preseason with nine minutes of garbage time and ended it in the starting lineup. Nevertheless, Casspi's preseason progress must be taken with a pinch of salt as many NBA teams, including Sacramento, rest many of their stars in the warm-up games. The forward is set to play far less in the regular season and his contribution will suffer as a result. However, the fact that Kings coach Paul Westphal has called him the surprise of the team so far, pretty much says it all, preseason or no preseason. The misfortune of others has also worked in Casspi's favor. The wrist injury of fifth-year small forward Francisco García, which will keep him out at least until mid-February, vacated valuable playing time and has played a big part in Westphal's decision to give the Israeli a role in his rotation. "He's shown some real good ability to belong out there," Westphal told the Sacramento Bee. "He's somebody that doesn't recognize limitations, and he's willing to pay the price to achieve his goals." It was actually García who helped make Casspi feel more comfortable in his new surroundings in late September. "He told me to come in late at night at 9 o'clock to be in the gym," Casspi said. "I came in late at night, and it was only me and him in the gym. My father came with me. 'Cisco told me, 'Hey Omri, you're my rookie this year. I'm going to take care of everything you need. If you've got any questions, if you have any problems…' "It meant a lot to me. I'm coming from a different country, coming to a new culture. He said, 'People might think we're competing for the same [position], but… I'm going to really keep supporting you. He did that day. He still is." The 27-year-old García has decided to go on all the team's trips to continue to help the youngsters. "I'm so happy for [Casspi] because he's playing so good right now," García said. "His confidence is up. He was handling the ball today, and I said, 'Keep working. The more you lose the ball, the better you're going to get at it. Just keep working. Don't worry about it.' "You see his shot is so much better now because he's been working. You can see the difference when people work. That's what you see with Omri. He can't miss. In practice today, he didn't miss. He's in a zone right now. I hope he carries it into the season." In a matter of weeks, Casspi replaced doubt with optimism, but caution still must be employed considering all of the obstacles he has still to conquer. For one, Casspi has no idea what it is like to play an 82-game season and fatigue could prove to be a factor. However, Casspi has done extremely well to date and is starting his NBA career in an almost ideal situation. He will surely struggle along the way, but if the past month is a sign of things to come he is on course to becoming a true NBA player. Allon@jpost.com

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