Sinai Says: After years as an NBA journeyman, Casspi finds perfect role

Omri Casspi (photo credit: REUTERS)
Omri Casspi
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It has become somewhat of a regular occurrence over the past week. But that should make it no less remarkable.
Twenty years from now, when NBA historians debate the greatest team ever, the 2017/18 Golden State Warriors are likely to be in the upper echelon of the list. The Warriors entered the season not only as the defending champions, but they were also coming off the most dominant three-year stretch in league history.
Golden State also won the title in 2014/15 before dramatically missing out on another championship in Game 7 of the 2015/16 Finals. No team in the league’s history had won more regular season games over three years than the Warriors between 2014 and 2017, with the side’s roster including possibly four Hall-of-Famers – including two MVPs – in their prime, and a bench loaded with former starters.
Considering all the above, it is nothing short of extraordinary that Omri Casspi has been part of Golden State’s starting lineup in four of the team’s past five games, averaging 23.6 minutes over that stretch.
It is true that the only reason the 29-yearold Israeli forward has started is due to the absence of the injured Kevin Durant, the MVP of last season’s Finals. Durant isn’t expected to be out for long with his left ankle sprain. But that should take nothing away from Casspi’s amazing success in seamlessly becoming a significant part in the supporting cast of what is bound to go down as one of the greatest teams in basketball history.
On Monday night, Casspi, making yet another start, played a season-high 31 minutes in the 110-106 loss to Sacramento, scoring nine points on 4-of-7 from the field while also taking four rebounds. The Warriors were without Steph Curry, as well as Durant, and the defeat dropped their record to 15-6, still good enough for second place in the West.
Over the past five games, going back to the win over Brooklyn on November 20, Casspi has averaged 9.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.0 blocks, connecting on 48.7 percent of his shots, including 50% from three-point range.
Those numbers aren’t far off his careerhigh averages in points (11.8 per game), rebounds (5.9), minutes (27.2) and threepoint percentage (40.9%) he tallied while playing for Sacramento in 2015/16.
It is hard to imagine Casspi maintaining this pace throughout the regular season, and especially in the playoffs, when coaches tend to shorten their rotations.
But considering the fact Warriors coach Steve Kerr has been singing Casspi’s praises almost daily over the past week, nothing seems to be out of the question.
On Monday, Kerr likened Casspi to a “perfect sort of utility man.”
“Omri was perfectly suited to join our team from day one,” said Kerr ahead of the game with Sacramento. “There hasn’t been an acclimation process. From the very first day of camp, he understood what we were trying to do. We can start him. We can barely play him. No matter what we do, he’s ready and is a great teammate and easy to coach.”
Two days earlier, Kerr spoke about how Casspi makes the players around him better, Hall-of-Fame players at that.
“Omri impacts every player on the floor with his cutting, his intelligence,” he said of the forward who had averaged 3.4 points in 7.8 minutes per game in October. “He makes the game easier on everybody. I think he really helps Steph [Curry] and Klay [Thompson] because he’s always in the right spot. He sets screens, he’s cutting.
“He’s just one of those guys who helps keep everything moving and everything going every play. He’s a wonderful player.
He’s just been a great addition.”
Casspi believes much of the credit should go to Kerr’s offense.
“It’s really hard if you play in a system that doesn’t complement your game,” said Casspi after Saturday’s win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
“When you play in a system that has so much more moving, cutting and playing without the ball, it makes me and my game a lot more comfortable.”
It is almost difficult to remember now, but Casspi entered the season off the back of arguably his worst campaign as an NBA player.
He played a mere total of 36 games for three different teams in 2016/17, twice sitting out significant time through injury. It was actually this that helped pave Casspi’s way to Golden State.
The first Israeli in the NBA agreed to a one-year deal with the reigning champion for a veteran’s minimum of $2.1 million last summer, missing out on much more lucrative offers after his stock had dropped significantly.
Casspi did nevertheless turn down an offer from a lottery team for double the amount he received from the Warriors, but he would almost certainly have favored a long-term deal for four or even five times the amount offered by Golden State had it been on the table.
The Warriors made Casspi feel wanted from the moment they could, calling him one minute after midnight on July 1 when teams were officially allowed to begin negotiations with players and telling him that he was the first player they were contacting.
Casspi, who is in his ninth season in the NBA, seems to have enjoyed every moment with the team since.
“I feel like this is the first time in my career that because of the way we play on offense and defense I can just play basketball without thinking too much and just play the game,” said Casspi. “And I have great guys around me who obviously take a lot of focus so I’m able to cut and do the stuff that a role player should do. I’m enjoying it and loving it so I just want to keep going, play hard and do what I need to do.”
So far, success on a team-level in the NBA has eluded Casspi to such an extent that there is no other player in the league who has made as many regular season appearances without playing in the playoffs.
It remains to be seen if, and what, role Casspi will play in the playoffs later this season.
Regardless, he seems certain to register yet another landmark in his career by ending his personal drought, perhaps on the way to what will be the crowning moment of one of the most exceptional careers in Israeli sports history, holding aloft the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy as a member of an all-time historic team.