Omri Casspi Finally Finding His Niche in Return to Sacramento Kings

Sim Risso@@SimRissoFeatured ColumnistFebruary 22, 2015

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 16: Omri Casspi #18 of the Sacramento Kings shoots the ball against the Miami Heat  at Sleep Train Arena on January 16, 2015 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Things have come full circle for Sacramento Kings forward Omri Casspi. After starting his NBA career with the Kings in 2009, Casspi has bounced around for the last three seasons, only to return to where he started a wiser and more experienced player.

He's applying the tricks he learned in stops with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Houston Rockets, and it's all contributing to what, in many ways, has been Casspi's best season. 

His averages of 7.1 points and 3.5 rebounds, while solid for a reserve, aren't the best he's posted in his career. But he's making the most of his opportunities and playing more efficiently and aggressively than he ever has before.

Casspi is attacking the hoop with greater frequency. Of his field-goal attempts, 81 percent of them are from within 10 feet of the hoop. He's also posting an average field-goal distance of 6.9 feet. His next closest season saw his average shot distance at 13.0 feet.

This isn't happening by accident, either. It's something Casspi has taken upon himself, and it's a mentality he picked up from last year's stint in Houston, where general manager Daryl Morey emphasizes eschewing the mid-range game for shots at the rim or behind the three-point line.

"I don’t believe in the mid-range game," said Casspi. "I don’t believe in the mid-range jump shot—unless you’re open. I’ve shot maybe two or three all season. I believe in the fact that the long two, or the contested two, is the worst shot in basketball. 

"In the system I played in, that’s the way we did it in Houston. It’s something they emphasized every day. I believe in it. I kind of read the game different now."

But having that mentality and making it work are two different things. Casspi is making it work. He's setting career highs in player efficiency rating (14.7), true shooting percentage (.574), free-throw rate (.546) and offensive rating (111).

Casspi's 2014-15 season vs. Career averages
PERTS%ORtgFTr
2014-1514.7.573111.546
Career averages12.5.522104.272
Basketball-Reference.com

Now, with new head coach George Karl in town, Casspi has a chance to take it even further. While the 26-year-old has only had two games and a few practices under Karl, he likes what he's seen so far.

"I’m happy that I think my game fits perfectly," said Casspi. "I’m the type of guy that runs the floor hard, tries to get to the free-throw line, get layups and shoot some threes. That’s my game, and I’ll try to do it every night."

It's also Karl's game, and it's one of the reasons we may not have seen the best from Casspi. The forward understands when to be aggressive and what to do when attacking.

As Bill Herenda, Kings Insider for Comcast California, pointed out, while Casspi's relentless, he's also controlled. He puts the ball on the floor with reason, and Karl's system is one that will reward him for it. 

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

"There are only three reasons to put the ball on the floor: No. 1, to get out of trouble; No. 2, to improve your passing angle; or No. 3, to go to the hoop," said Herenda. "That style will fit perfectly with Coach Karl’s system, because if you’re not denied, you’re going to finish. If you get by your man and there’s help, you’re going to kick. I think what will happen is, as teams get more acclimated into the Kings’ style, he'll get more open looks."

Of course, it'll take time for Casspi to acclimate to Karl. After all, this is a unique situation the team and players find themselves in. 

Adjusting to a new coach and a new system isn't an easy thing to do, even with a full offseason to prepare. It becomes a more daunting task when that transition takes place midseason. And not only that, but the way Karl wants to play is different than anything the players have done so far this season. 

The biggest change figures to be the increased pace. In the 52 games prior to the All-Star break, the Kings averaged 97.2 possessions per 48 minutes. In Karl's two games as head coach, that number increased to 105.86.

While Casspi didn't shoot the ball particularly well, making only two of his nine field-goal attempts in his debut with Karl, he showed good effort. He ran the court well, which is something Karl noted in his postgame press conference, along with setting season highs in rebounds (12) and assists (6), including this dandy:

But he admitted that adapting to the pace Karl wants to play at will be an adjustment.

"I think [the Feb. 20 game against the Boston Celtics] is the first game I didn't shoot the ball well," said Casspi. "But it’s just getting my legs underneath me and learning and feeling comfortable in that system. I ran today more than I ran I think the whole season, so step-by-step, learning and finding my spots and figuring it out."

The last 30 games of the season provide an opportunity for Casspi to get in a rhythm in a solid system, which is something that's been difficult while missing 13 games with nagging injuries and surviving two prior head coaches in four months.

"I think, certainly, the opportunity for him to be a vital part of the Sacramento Kings is really still right in front of him from the standpoint that I think George Karl, or course, brings stability, leadership, focus and direction," said Herenda. "They’re going to play smaller with Rudy [Gay] at the 4. For Omri, I think the best is ahead of him this season."

That's saying something considering Casspi has already elevated his play upon previous years. 

And assuming things play out well over the remainder of the season, the Kings will have to strongly consider retaining Casspi at the end of the season, when he will be an unrestricted free agent following the campaign. But as far as he's concerned, Casspi would like to stay in Sacramento, right where it all began.

"I want to be here," said Casspi. "I love it here. There’s no question in my mind on where I want to be, but there’s still a long way to go. We’ve got a new coach, and everybody’s got to fit in. Just taking it step by step."

Unless noted otherwise, all stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com and are accurate as of the end of play Feb. 20.

What do you think of Casspi's play? Let me know on Twitter @SimRisso.

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