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Omri Casspi Making It In Cleveland
Posted By Stephen Brotherston On January 5, 2012 @ 4:00 pm In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
When Cleveland traded third year power forward J.J. Hickson for Omri Casspi after the 2011 draft, the first player from Israel to play in the NBA was immediately slotted in as the next Cavaliers starting small forward. In his rookie season, Casspi impressed by averaging 10.3 points and 4.5 rebounds for Sacramento, but an up and down sophomore campaign last year saw his progress stall as his shooting percentages dropped and he moved in and out of the starting line-up. The 23-year-old is getting a fresh start in Cleveland and expectations are high that Casspi will regain the promise of his rookie year.
“I see this as a new opportunity,” said Casspi. “A team where I can bring my abilities and strengths to the court. I am really excited even though it’s been a tough start. I feel that I have been making strides, as well as the team, and those are the most important things.”
Unfortunately, Casspi did get out of the gate slowly hitting just 26.7 percent of his shots over his first three regular season games while his team dropped their home opener to Toronto and split a pair of games on the road.
“I just think he’s struggling,” said Head coach Byron Scott. “I think the main thing is because he is in a new system. He has to get used to this system. A lot of guys who were here last year struggled the first half of the season also because it’s a new system also. Those guys feel more comfortable right now and Alonzo is one of those guys and Antawn and Andy and those guys feel a lot more comfortable with me and the system that they are in and I think it will take Omri a little while but I think he’ll be fine.”
Alonzo Gee has been backing up Casspi at small forward and averaging more minutes per game as Gee turned an off-season stint in Europe into an improved jump shot and better all around play. Gee however has nothing but positive reviews on his new teammate.
“(Casspi) He’s a good dude,” said Gee. “He can shoot the ball really well. He has helped me out with my jumper as well. We help each other out on the defensive end. It’s good having him here. He has been in the league two years so we help each other out. He is still learning the offense and learning the system so it’s going to take some time to get adjusted and learn the plays.”
Training camp under Coach Scott can be especially tough on newcomers as Scott made headlines last season for making the Cavs players run until some of them threw-up. It’s all part of being in the best shape possible with an element of team building through adversity.
“In training camp, Coach said no one would be in better shape than us,” said Casspi. “That’s due to a Coach Scott training camp and it is something that really reflects on us. We play hard, we play 48 minutes. Our second half is always better than our opponents. We really emphasize defense in our training camp and our defense has been great. We share the ball and we have no selfish guys on this team. Everyone wants his teammates to succeed as much as he wants to succeed and it reflects on the court.”
What Casspi didn’t realize was Coach Scott was taking it easier on them this year.
“He said he took it easy on us,” said Casspi laughing. “I say the training camp was hard, so if this was easy, I can’t wait for next year. (Laughs again)Hopefully we can have another lockout and have a shorter training camp again.”
More than just a tough training camp, Coach Scott demands a tough physical style of defense that can take its toll on newcomers to his system and Casspi was affected by the changes early on.
“This team is tough, like our coach,” said Casspi. “We play hard defense and make our opponent earn their points by helping each other and playing as a team. It’s just the beginning but I am feeling more comfortable with each game that goes by. It’s still not me out there but hopefully that will come sooner than later.
“Sometimes when you focus on defense you kind of forget about offense. I lost a little bit of my confidence offensively, in my shot especially. I don’t think it has anything to do with my defense but it’s just the beginning of the schedule is so tight, we have so many games that one bad shooting week goes through five games.”
Casspi has a valid point. In this compressed lockout affected schedule, the games are coming faster than we are used to and Casspi has actually already turned the corner on his shooting. In the three games over the past four days, Casspi has been shooting 50 percent from the field and connected on four of seven three point attempts. The adjustment period shooting slump is over.
The initial slow start and the emergence of an improved Gee didn’t adversely affected Casspi’s starting position or his teammates opinion of their new small forward. Casspi fits in well with the type of team Coach Scott is trying to build.
“He is a tough competitor,” said Antawn Jamison. “He has that fire as a teammate that you love. Always positive, can hit the big shots, defensively takes the challenge. He’s the perfect teammate. No disappointments whatsoever.”
“The guys I have starting right now are my starters,” said Scott. “It’s going to be that way until I think it’s time that I need to make a change.”
As of now, the surprising 3-3 Cavaliers are not giving Coach Scott many reasons to change things, but the current seven game road trip will be a huge test.
“This road trip is really important for us and is something that can reflect on where our season is going to go,” said Casspi. “I feel that we have a really young and talented team and well as some veterans that bring a lot of leadership. I feel that the sky is the limit. We can make some great things happen this year as long as we keep playing hard and together.”
Expectations for the Cavaliers are low this season as the team is rebuilding and relies heavily on a very young line-up. Casspi however fits in perfectly with the Cavaliers plans and with Coach Scott. A tough up and coming small forward who can develop along with the team’s core of young players. Expect Casspi to make a difference in Cleveland.
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