Analysis: An NBA fixture for years to come

Analysis An NBA fixture

About a month ago one of my 10-year-old students in Washington Heights, New York, came up to me and asked, "Yo Mr. Robbins, you know that Omri Casspi?" After replying that I did in fact know of the rising Israeli star, he nodded, smiled in approval and said, "He's good, yo." When a child who has barely travelled outside of New York City and whose family does not own a television or a computer knows who you are, you've made it to the big time. And what a big time it has been for Omri Moshe Casspi. In the few weeks since the aforementioned conversation, the 21-year-old Casspi has been named The Jerusalem Post Israeli Sports Personality of 2009, been the subject of a feature article in Sports Illustrated magazine and joined the Sacramento Kings' starting lineup. Additionally, he caught the eye of The Sporting News, who wrote that since being drafted before most probably expected him to, all the "rookie sensation that absolutely no one saw coming" has done "is play a key role in the Kings' resurgence, demonstrating an uncanny ability to play hard, smart and with finesse." And that was back on December 22. Since forcing himself into the starting five on December 16, Casspi has averaged 17.5 points per game, raising his season average from 11.1 to 13.2. He has scored 20 or more points in six of the ten games, setting new career-highs on three different occasions, while leading the Kings to a 4-6 record. Although the record may look pedestrian on paper - and you can be sure the driven Casspi is not satisfied with it - six of the ten games came against Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, the Los Angeles Lakers (twice) and the Phoenix Suns - all top-tier teams. The Kings have already matched their home win total from last season with 11 and are closing in on the league-worst 17 wins last year's team posted. For a team predicted by many to finish second-to-last in the NBA, the record speaks for itself. So do Casspi's numbers. Over the Kings' four-game losing streak Casspi has taken his game to another level, averaging 22.5 points and 8.25 rebounds per game, while shooting an incredible 60 percent from three-point range. On the season, he is shooting 49.8% from the field, which is a whopping 4.4% higher than any of the other eight rookies attempting at least eight shots per game. He is also shooting a stellar 47.1% from the three-point line, good for fourth in the NBA. This increase in points has not gone unnoticed by the NBA analysts, as Casspi has supplanted Minnesota's Jonny Flynn as the third overall rookie in the NBA's rookie rankings for the first time this season. In ESPN's "Award Watch" section, Casspi leapt from fifth to third in the rookie of the year watch, eliciting the praise, "Kudos to the Kings' front office for drafting not one but two studs," in reference to current number one rookie Tyreke Evans. So what does it all mean? Aside from becoming a fan-favorite in two different countries, Omri Casspi has shown himself to be a consummate NBA pro. Surrounded by a great set of teammates that includes rookie of the year frontrunner and soon-to-be NBA superstar Evans, and "Mr. Hustle" himself, Jon Brockman, Casspi is being guided by classy yet gritty coach Paul Westphal. With the mentoring he has received from his veteran coach, there is no reason to believe that Casspi will not continue his fast rise now that he has proven he can hang with the big boys. Before his historic season began, Omri Casspi was harshly criticized in the Israeli media. He was called selfish for abandoning the Israeli national team for the NBA, and former coaches and fellow basketball analysts said his game was not an NBA game, that he was not ready for the best league in the world. How has the player who has since been praised by teammates, the coaching staff, team management and ownership for his strong work ethic and team play responded? By surpassing his Euroleague career-highs in every category, and putting up averages that are better across the board, all in his first NBA season. Omri Casspi had an NBA dream and he is making it a reality. A hard-nosed sabra, driven like few others are in today's money-hungry, ego-heavy NBA, Casspi is proving all of the critics wrong, while putting on a show for fans spanning the globe. What's next for the rising Israeli star? First, a starting spot in the Rookie/Sophomore game at the 2010 NBA All-Star weekend. Then an NBA roster spot for year's to come. Joseph D. Robbins is currently completing a Master's in Education at Columbia University in New York City. Check out his blog "Robbins Rants" at