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Could Omri Casspi Provide New York Knicks with Small Forward Depth?

July 4th, 2013 at 8:00 AM
By Matt Agne

Omri Casspi entered the league with hype and promise. He was thought of as a future star when he was drafted by the Sacramento Kings. However, he was eventually dealt to the Cleveland Cavaliers where he fell on hard times. Could the New York Knicks take advantage and bring in the talented Israeli to give the Knicks' depth at the small forward position?

'Omri Casspi / Courtney Lee' photo (c) 2009, Bryan Horowitz - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Omri Casspi is a 25 year old small forward from Holon, Israel. He's 6'9", 225 pounds and was selected 23rd overall by the Sacramento Kings in the 2009 NBA Draft. He played for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel from 2005-06, Hapoel Galil Elyon in Israel from 2006-07, Maccabi Tel Aviv again from 2007-09, the Kings from 2009-11 and the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2011-13.

When the Kings chose to trade Casspi and a 2012 first round draft pick were traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers on June 30, 2011 for J.J. Hickson things changed for Casspi. He already wasn't living up to his future star projection but now he was going from one bad team to another where things would get even worse. 

Casspi experienced career lows in Cleveland and eventually lost his starting job to Alonzo Gee. There were even rumors that Cleveland would buy Casspi out of the final year of his contract but instead he played the 2012-13 season for just under $2.3 million ($2,277,306).

Now Casspi is an unrestricted free agent. So, why should the New York Knicks be interested in him? Well, for one he's cheap. However, despite his statistics getting worse every year of his career Casspi is still considered a skilled player. He simply hasn't harnessed his skills. Surely playing for two poorly run teams hasn't helped his NBA career.

That being said, Casspi's strongest skill is probably his three-point shooting. He has a career mark of 35.3 percent from beyond the arc. Listen, those aren't sharpshooting numbers but its enough to keep defenses honest and keep them from ignoring him. That would open the floor up for J.R. Smith, Amare Stoudemire and other second-unit scorers.

'Omri Casspi' photo (c) 2009, Bryan Horowitz - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Lets face it, the Knicks like to take a lot of threes. After trading Steve Novak to the Toronto Raptors, and with the real chance they lose Chris Copeland in free agency, Cappri could be a welcome addition.

His issue is inaccuracy from in his mid-range game. He's shot just 42.1 percent from the field throughout his career. That's far too low for such a talented shooter. Casspi's a reliable offensive player when he gets to the rim and on catch and shoot situations from behind the three-point arc.

It's his in-between game that's lacking. If he were able to improve that aspect of his offensive game he could be the weapon the NBA thought he'd be when the Kings selected him. In fact, if he had already done that the Knicks would never be able to afford him this off-season. However, with Casspi's career on the line, the Knicks need at small forward and his relationship with Amare Stoudemire, New York could be a good landing spot for him this off-season.

One good thing is that Casspi rebounds well for his position. While his averages aren't overwhelming he does a good job of chasing down rebounds when he's on the floor and with his height and athleticism those numbers could improve.

However, defense is another area where Casspi struggles. He's not a terrible team defender but in one-on-one situations he gives up too many points. While that's not something Mike Woodson will like if he's really the defensive coach most Knicks fans think he is there's no reason he can't work with Casspi and cover his shortcomings with teammates and schemes. Besides, what do you want for the veteran's minimum?

'Luke Walton and Omri Casspi' photo (c) 2012, Erik Drost - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
 

Perhaps this summary doesn't paint Casspi in the best light but he still seems to be a player with far too much skill to struggle the way he has thus far during his NBA tenure.  It's clear he has a lot of room to improve but it's not like he doesn't have the tools to do so and perhaps the change in culture will do Casspi some good. It's not like Sacramento and Cleveland were exactly hot beds for winning basketball.

Casspi still has promise and here's why. He has wonderful offensive instincts and he plays with a great deal of energy. He flies up the floor at the first sign of a fast break opportunity and often beats his man down the court for easy baskets. He's also a very competitive player with shows a lot of emotion. That shows that he'll not only scrap and fight for the win but he actually cares about what he's doing instead of just showing up for a paycheck.

Plus, despite his struggles he still has the physical gifts and hard-nosed mentality to become a solid defender. He has excellent physical tools and knows how to use his length to his advantage. While he can struggle fighting through screens and can cheat a bit too much in the passing lanes looking for steals, he seems to just lack some defensive fundamentals. There’s no reason why Woodson can't help him in that department.

On June 17, Casspi told an Israeli newspaper that he wants, "To stay in the NBA, but I need a coach that believes in me and will give me minutes." Why couldn't Woodson and the Knicks be that coach and team that gives him a fair chance?

There's little doubt Casspi could get offers from European clubs but if he wants to stay in the NBA there's no reason he shouldn't be able to. Not with his promise and not with his skill set. Why shouldn't Glen Grunwald be the one to take a low-risk high-reward chance on Casspi and add depth and a scoring punch to the Knicks bench? Perhaps when the Cavaliers decided not to extend a qualifying offer to Casspi this off-season they simply were giving him a chance to revive his career elsewhere. What better place than Madison Square Garden?

Tags: Amare Stoudemire, Basketball, Cleveland Cavaliers, Glen Grunwald, J.R. Smith, Mike Woodson, NBA, New York, New York Knicks, Omri Casspi, Sacramento Kings

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