When the Kings signed Omri Casspi this summer, reaction was decidedly mixed among Kings fans. Casspi started off his career here in Sacramento and did well for a time, but eventually he fell out of favor and was traded to Cleveland for J.J. Hickson. Now returning to the Kings after a few years elsewhere, Casspi was now a veteran, a player who had learned to fill a role and might be able to contribute a few minutes here and there off the bench. There were no big expectations for him, much like there weren't for the Kings themselves.
So far this season however, Casspi is making a case for himself as Sacramento's most valuable bench player. He quickly supplanted Derrick Williams in the rotation thanks to his effort and hustle in the preseason and his role continues to increase as he brings in more production every game. Yesterday against a stingy Chicago Bulls defense, he dropped in 14 points on a perfect 5 for 5 from the field and 4 of 4 from the line. The fact of the matter is that Omri Casspi is playing the best basketball of his career, and he's doing so by playing a different brand of basketball than we've seen from him in the past.
When Casspi came into the league, he largely relied on spot-up shots and running ahead on fast breaks. In his last four years in the league, he took 43.7% of his total shots from beyond the three point arc despite shooting just 34.6% there. This year, Casspi has only attempted 8 total three pointers, or just 14.8% of his total attempts, a huge drop-off. Why is that? Because Casspi is finding great success by attacking the rim, both with and without the ball.
The above shot chart, courtesy of NBA.com, shows just how effective Omri Casspi has been near the basket this season. He's been even better right at the rim, where he's shooting 79.2% from 0-3 feet per basketball-reference.com. Casspi hasn't had many issues in finishing despite tough coverage either; According to NBA.com, Casspi is shooting 58.8% when a defender is within 0-2 feet (which has happened 34.7% of time) and 50% when a defender is within 2-4 feet (36.7% of the time). That means most of his scoring is coming despite tight coverage, which also leads to a big increase in free throw attempts. Casspi has a career FTA per 36 minutes of just 3.0 a game, and this year that number has jumped all the way to 6.4, or more than double. He's also hitting his free throws at a way higher percentage than any other time in his career (86.1% compared to a career percentage of 67.9%). Casspi's True Shooting % (which factors 2P%, 3P% and FT%) is a ridiculously efficient .659, way higher than his career average of .521.
Omri is also providing a change of pace off the bench. He has the highest offensive rating on the team, and part of it is because when he's on the floor he forces the Kings to run faster and take advantage of fast break opportunities. He's improved his ballhandling skills to the point that when he grabs a rebound, he's off to the races before the defense is set and that sets up easy opportunities for himself and for his teammates.
This is not the same Omri Casspi, and these aren't the same Sacramento Kings. Both are much better and hopefully just getting started.