Every year, several international players that you’ve probably never heard of get selected in the NBA Draft. Unless you watch or follow European leagues religiously, then your knowledge of those players is probably just limited to the 60-second grainy highlight tape that they show at the draft packaged with the Fran Fraschilla analysis. That is why when guys like Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili make immediate splashes in the League, you stop and ask yourself: Where the hell did they come from?
The Sacramento Kings’ rookie Omri Casspi has been that guy for me (and most likely everyone else) this season. Casspi, who was the 23rd pick in last June’s draft, has been one of the best rookies so far this season. The 6-9 forward out of Israel is averaging 13 ppg, 4.8 rpg, while shooting 45.5 percent from the three-point line (fifth in the NBA). He is also one of the five rookies who are averaging double figures.
Although he’s been producing since the get-go, you can understand how he’s been flying under the radar a little bit. On top of being a virtual unknown to the general public, he is also playing in Sacramento – a franchise that doesn’t get a lot of national exposure. Casspi is also playing on a team that has another rookie with a slightly higher profile than him, Tyreke Evans. The fourth pick in the draft, Evans is the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year honors with his 20.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg and 5 apg averages.
While Evans and Brandon Jennings are getting all of the headlines, Casspi is quickly becoming the next best rookie. He has improved his numbers every month and in the past couple of weeks, has taken his game to a higher level. From Dec. 30 to Jan. 5, the 21-year-old Casspi scored over 20 points in four straight contests including a 23 point effort against the Lakers. During that stretch, Casspi also pulled down 8.3 rebounds per game and shot 53 percent from the field. He has also been one of the go-to guys down the stretch. In the Kings’ Saturday night win against the Nuggets, Casspi played the final seven minutes of the game and hit a crucial three-pointer during crunch time.
Casspi has displayed several positive traits that have Kings’ fans very optimistic about the future. Like the team’s past international stars like Hedo Turkoglu and Peja Stojaković, Casspi can really shoot the ball, whether it’s a set three or whether it’s off the dribble. Even though he’s young, Omri is tough as nails. He is a hard working defender and has not backed down when asked to guard Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Casspi has really filled in nicely for the injured Kevin Martin.
The Kings are currently 15-21 and a good six games out of the last playoff spot. While a playoff berth is not realistic this year and perhaps even next year, the team has plenty of young, talented players to get excited about. On top of Martin, Evans and Casspi, the Kings also have Spencer Hawes, Jason Thompson and Donte Greene. They also have a third rookie, Jon Brockman, who has started to contribute as of late.
Casspi is definitely a player the league needs to take notice of. With his skill set and potential, it’s scary to think about what he could be two or three years down the line. Or even two or three months down the line.