When Omri Casspi signed with the Kings over the summer, many shrugged their shoulders with a "meh." The sixth-year man is in his second stint with Sacramento after all and how much of a role could he possibly have now? As the preseason has rolled along, Casspi continues to contribute steady, productive minutes and likely will be one of the two to three top contributors off the Kings bench this season.
Casspi, who helped the Kings defeat Maccabi Haifa 91-59 on Saturday, seems to have absorbed his NBA experience quite well as the game appears to come to him a little easier than it did in his first couple of seasons in Sacramento (2009-2011). Casspi says he has more confidence in his game these days, having played in a winning culture with Houston last season and on Israel's national team in the offseason. And while he isn't a focal point, and probably never will be in the NBA, he is shaping up to be a nice piece off a Kings bench that was left depleted last season following the trade that brought Rudy Gay to Sacramento.
"It's part of experience and feeling comfortable with my game, feeling comfortable in the system that coach [Michael] Malone puts us in, and the sets and the confidence he gives me as a coach," Casspi said.
It has shown in the box score.
In the four games he has received extended minutes (24 minutes per) in the preseason, Casspi is averaging 11.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and .7 blocks. But it's not just the stats, it his good ball handling, ability to attack the rim (he is averaging 6.5 free throw attempts in the last four games) and the composure he is playing with that stands out. It should be noted, however, that he has forced the issue passing the ball on occasion (he has 10 turnovers so far), but some of that is likely due to getting used to his new team.
The 26-year-old has a few specific things he focuses on when he gets on the floor.
"One of the things I want to bring every night is energy, play tough defense, run the floor like a deer and then just be the first one out there and compete for rebounds," Casspi said.
Casspi could end up playing multiple positions this season depending on whether Michael Malone wants to go big or small with his lineup. But as a traditional small forward, Casspi will likely spend the bulk of his minutes backing up Gay. Casspi says he likes the opportunity to play alongside Gay.
"Me and Rudy can play together, whether we are playing small and me and Rudy at the four or the three, sometimes even at the two. I like to compete against him in practice because he makes me better. [He's] obviously one of our two best players and he's a great role model; he's a great guy and so I like to compete and play together or be a substitution - so I'll do whatever it takes," Casspi said.
Casspi's main competition for minutes is fourth-year man Derrick Williams. Williams is averaging 8.2 points and 1.7 rebounds over the last four games and has had a shorter leash in Malone's rotation - averaging 18 minutes per game so far. Williams had decent scoring outings in the last couple of games and shows flashes of his potential by attacking the basket or via a nice crossover move here and there. But the question about the second overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft is if he can remain consistent and impact games in ways other than scoring. Williams hasn't really shown he can do this or that he can fill a need on the defensive side of the ball in the preseason.
Regardless of whether it is Casspi or Williams backing up Gay in the rotation, the Kings have their work cut out for them in the Western Conference. To compete against these teams, Casspi's knows how important building good spacing and having shooting around DeMarcus Cousins is going to be this season, especially having played with Dwight Howard last season in Houston.
"I think the old concept of especially the Western Conference is going into more of shooters and spacing the floor, especially with a team like ours or the Houston Rockets when you have such a big, dominant force inside," Casspi said. "One of the best lineups in the league was when we played shooters around Dwight and kind of spaced the floor. And this is something we can do here because DeMarcus is such a good first and a willing passer second."
Shooting is something Casspi prides himself on. He is shooting 41 percent from the field in the last four games, (his career average is 42 percent). He's not shy about taking a big shot either as he hit the three that helped send last Wednesday's game against the Nets into overtime.
The bottom line is that with Casspi comes much-needed experience in the Kings locker room. The same goes for the team's other offseason additions such as Darren Collison and Ramon Sessions, which has resulted in a nice mix of veterans and young players.
"We still have room to grow, we have a lot of young guys, we have veterans and we have a foundation of something that could be really good. Obviously, we're going to keep working and keep getting better, but the foundation is good," Casspi said.