Omri Casspi signed a multi-year deal with the Houston Rockets this summer.
This after a relatively disappointing two-season stay in Cleveland, where he averaged career lows of 7.1, then 4.0 points per game.
But Casspi has looked like his old effective self this preseason, scoring 20 and 17 points in his first two Rockets outings.
The question is whether he can sustain such play in the regular season and fill in the glaring hole at the 4-spot that the team has. Casspi’s shooting range could be a crucial weapon for the team, as they attempt to introduce more half-court offense in their quest for a championship.
Dwight Howard and Omer Asik, of course, have no such range. Just take a look at their shot charts, from last season.
Now, take a look at Casspi’s from last season (albeit an off year):
Casspi didn't exactly light the world on fire from outside of the paint last year, but he was still latitudes ahead of the two natural 5’s that the Rockets are attempting to treat like 4’s.
It’s also important to note that Casspi has excelled from beyond the arc before, at least for someone as big as 6'9": he shot 37% on three-pointers in his second season in the league. For stretch power forwards—a role the Rockets could certainly use—this is a good mark.
Can Casspi return to such proficiency? He was down to 33% with Cleveland last year, but he’s been 6/12 (50%) in his preseason attempts with the Rockets. This is, of course, a terribly small sample size, but it’s also a testament to the extra time and space Casspi will get on all outside shots. Houston's offense is much more capable of re-directing defensive bodies than Cleveland's was.
But Casspi will also need to improve his free-throw percentage if he’s to get the minutes he desires. Last year, he was a dismal 54%, making him as much of a liability in that regard as the two centers—Asik was at 56% last year, and Howard was all the way down to 49%. Casspi’s a 66% shooter from the line through his career, so there’s reason to hope he’ll improve.
One thing’s for sure: he will have his chance to prove himself, at one point or another. Whether the Howard-Asik experiment pans out in the long run is a loaded question, but no one doubts that it will have its rocky moments in the short term. Houston will need a more natural 4 spending long minutes on the floor, in a good deal of games.
And as long as he hits enough open shots, Casspi will be doing everything he needs to for the team’s offense. With so many dynamic scorers already in town, Casspi’s role is essentially that of a buoy; his range will be used to draw defenders further away from spots where they could more easily collapse on a driving James Harden, Jeremy Lin or Chandler Parsons. Casspi wouldn’t have the ball in his hands much.
On the other end, Casspi's defense has always been at least near replacement level quality. If he does gain minutes in crucial games and is on the floor for must-stop situations, though, he'll be much less valuable to his team than Omer Asik, who—despite not being Dwight Howard—is one of the better defenders in the league. Expect Coach Kevin McHale to sub Casspi and Asik for each other pretty aggressively in certain games.
Many have called for the Rockets to trade Asik—as he himself has asked them to—and acquire their much-coveted stretch forward (Ryan Anderson’s name has often come up). But if Omri Casspi is able to fulfill this relatively manageable role and exhibit the shooting range that he needs to, such a transaction might not be necessary. They might have their guy already. Casspi's range could very well be the magic ingredient to Houston maximizing much of its roster's mysterious potential.