Omri Casspi, a player who struggled significantly to get accustomed to the Cavaliers’ system last season, is coming into training camp determined to win back the starting small forward job. The Cavs have been pleased with the work that Casspi has put in this offseason, but he will have a new competitor in C.J. Miles and the likelihood of Alonzo Gee rejoining the team in his way of winning back the starting three job.
The 24-year-old began his career playing for the Israeli basketball club Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv. In four seasons in the Israeli League Casspi averaged 10.0 points, 1.3 assists and 3.6 rebounds. He received many accolades while playing in Israel, winning the “Discovery of the Year” award during his 2006-07 campaign with Hapoei Galil and finished fourth in voting for the FIBA Europe Young Men’s Player of the Year during the 2008-09 season.
This summer Casspi played for Team Israel in hopes of helping his team qualify for the EuroBasket 2013 tournament. Casspi played a pretty big role on the team, averaging 16.5 points, 2.3 assists and 6.8 rebounds, while shooting 58.3 percent from two-point range and 55.6 percent from three. Although the competition was a lot less tough overseas, it’s very encouraging for Cavalier fans to see Casspi shoot above 50 percent.
Casspi, the first Israeli player to be selected in the first round of an NBA draft and to play in an NBA game, shot at a dismal 40.3 percent clip from the field last season and averaged career lows in minutes (20.6), points (7.1), assists (1.0), rebounds (3.5) and steals (0.6). After being dealt to Cleveland in a trade that sent former Cavalier J.J. Hickson to the Sacramento Kings, Casspi was hounded by head coach Byron Scott for still not knowing the playbook over halfway into the season.
That led Scott to start the fulminant Gee, basically putting Casspi on the bench for the rest of the season. He started 35 games for the Cavaliers during the 2011-12 season, but will have to fight extremely hard if he wants to be the starting small forward come October 30. Scott may have other plans for Miles, such as putting him in the two-guard role, so Casspi’s strongest competitor seems to be Gee at this point. In my opinion, Miles would still make a better starting small forward than Casspi.
I believe that Casspi will come into camp shooting with much better form than he did last season. He lost his jump-shot identity, and not knowing the playbook is not a good excuse for his struggles from the field. But with Casspi staying active this summer and getting his confidence back with his Israel teammates, he will come into training camp ready to contribute right away. I don’t think he will win the starting job, but he will perform a lot better than last season and will still be a valuable asset off the bench.