Roundup: Omri Casspi in a Heroic Victory over Maccabi

Roundup: Omri Casspi in a Heroic Victory over Maccabi
Mar 28, 2007, 07:37 pm
Omri Casspi is our Player of the Week after his impressive performance leading Galil Elyon to victory over Israeli powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv. Besides, we pay a visit to the Chinese CBA Finals, focusing on how is Yi Jianlian faring against the likes of Wang Zhizhi and Mo Ke. We also put the spotlight on Pau Orthez’s big young couple Ludovic Vaty and Alexis Ajinca, who enjoyed some limited action this week in the Euroleague.

Player of the Week: Omri Casspi

Omri Casspi looked impressive while leading his team Galil Elyon to an upset victory over the powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv, reason enough to grant him Player of the Week honours.

You can perfectly understand the immense joy showed by Galil players when the game finished, almost like they had just won a championship, given Maccabi’s tyrannical dominance over the years in the domestic competition. They were in fact undefeated this season in the Israeli League. Casspi was particularly expressive, even during the game. He’s a hot-blooded player whose rights actually belong to Maccabi (he’s loaned in Galil), which likely was extra motivation for him. He led his team in scoring with 17 points, adding 5 rebounds and 3 assists. He has scored in double digits in the last 7 games of the Israeli League, emerging as one of the currently best performers out of the 1988 international pool, only clearly behind Danilo Gallinari.

You have to love the passion and character Casspi showed in this game, even if he sometimes overreacts and acts a bit cocky. He’s actually a rather intense player, a fearless guy who rarely hides from responsibilities and loves to take the initiative. It’s pretty obvious just watching him grabbing a rebound and driving the ball to the offensive end with enormous confidence. Indeed his go-to move is pretty representative of that spirit, as he’s first a terrific slasher. It’s truly very difficult to keep him out of the lane; as he enjoys a quick first step, very nice ball-handling skills, solid footwork, good use of his body, and all the determination to attack his rivals. That’s remarkable for a 6-8 small forward like him. Maccabi players were hopeless trying to stop him, and he ended up forcing many fouls. Casspi is also becoming a solid shooter. He knocked down a couple of spot-up three-pointers and missed another one by a hair, and he now credits an excellent 45.7% from that range in the Israeli League this season. He’s effective off the dribble from the mid-range area, but wasn’t lucky here in this game. We could also see him delivering a rather orthodox right-handed jump-hook that almost went in, which tells us about his scoring mentality and skill adaptability.

Above anything, Casspi looks extremely natural playing the game. The visual impression couldn’t be better, as he enjoys an excellent frame and notable wingspan, so he leaves a mixed feeling of elegance and aggressiveness. He’s not an outstanding athlete, but is very fluid. It’s on defense where he suffers the most in this area. He’s aware of his limitations in terms of lateral quickness and prefers to concede space to his match-ups, risking easy shots, in order to prevent them from slashing. Still, he’s rather active on team defense and rebounding. He enjoys a nice basketball IQ, although he sometimes gets caught up in the fire of the game and eventually forces some plays. Just like it happened to him right after surprisingly blocking Nikola Vujcic, as he tried to complete the humiliation on the offensive end by attacking the Croatian center one-on-one in the first seconds of the possession, resulting in a very bad shot.

Anyway, Casspi might potentially be a first-round pick, and we’ll be following him closely. Particularly next week in the Nike Hoop Summit.

Taking a Long Look at…

…Yi Jianlian, who might be playing his last games in the Chinese CBA, facing Bayi in the Finals. He could leave his country with a bitter feeling, though, as the series don’t look good for Guangdong; they currently trail 1-3 in a seven-game format.

Despite arguably being a more talented team, Guangdong is not getting the job done. They have always started ahead in the score, but suffering from poor playmaking (Bayi’s point Wang Zhongguang has literally killed his opponents in the last two games), the more veteran team Bayi has successfully slowed down the games to execute its half court offense, using the low post very well to generate spaces and good shots, while showing more poise with the games on the line. Actually, the only victory for Guangdong came in the second game, when they just outran their rival with a frenzied transition game, which ultimately resulted in a blowout win.

Yi Jianlian in particular is having some troubles against Bayi’s excellent frontcourt (for Chinese standards). He has been battling mainly against Wang Zhizhi and Mo Ke, both members of the Chinese National Team and both long, mobile and skilled guys. Yi is especially suffering scoring near the basket when he isn’t able to use his right-handed jump-hook from short distances (which is by the way looking pretty nice, with an excellent high release). He’s finding less space in the lane and more intimidation than usual, so he can’t operate as comfortably and his teammates don’t find him as easily. Simply put, he can’t just score over his rivals at will.


Still, Yi has delivered a bit of everything regarding his offensive game. He has again shown his solid mid-range stroke, useful out to 20 feet, but still very inconsistent from the three-point line (1/6 in this series). He has also attacked his match-ups off the dribble with both hands and decent handles, also exposing severe limitations to finish with his left, just as it happens when he plays from the post. Indeed, we haven’t seen much of his turnaround shot off the post, actually missing the very few times he put it on display. Anyway, he never found the rhythm to heat up from the field, and couldn’t lead his team with the games on the line; he couldn’t become a real go-to player.

On defense it was a bit of the same story. It’s not that Wang Zhizhi has exaggeratedly dominated him, but Yi has suffered trying to stop him. Still far from being a really physical defender (as we have stated before, he needs to use his body better and be more aggressive), Wang has been able to rely on his pure skills to outscore him. Besides, this time his frontcourt teammate Jason Dixon has not been as effective as in the semifinals, as his limited size doesn’t match well with Wang’s height and wingspan.

Yi has averaged 20.4 points and 9.5 rebounds in these four games, which might look good at first sight, but is a bit disappointing when we consider that he has needed almost 43 minutes per game to achieve these numbers. Where he gets picked on draft night will greatly depend on who falls in love with his potential. He will need a big adjustment in his defensive game from what he’s displaying in the CBA to what will be required in the NBA. Still, he seems a smart kid, and if he puts enough effort, he shouldn’t have troubles in the long run. Offensively, he will start as a pure role player, which should make things easier for him.

State of the Prospect: Who’s Hot

Nikita Shabalkin had 24 points and 11 rebounds against one of the best Russian squads, Unics Kazan. His team Samara is losing some ground in the SuperLeague lately and as expected couldn’t get away with the victory.

Rudy Fernández led DKV Joventut to an important victory over Unicaja Málaga in the ACB League. It was quite an inspired performance with 19 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals. He was very active all game long, perhaps sometimes abusing his long-range shot or over-dribbling a little looking for one-on-one options, but having an excellent impact on his team. He’s particularly passing the ball more lately (averages 4.2 assists in the last 6 games) and looks aggressive taking advantage of his athleticism to clean the boards (averages 6.3 rebounds in the last 3 games).

State of the Prospect: Who’s Not

This week we’re focusing on a well-known young couple playing for Pau Orthez. They are European junior champions and enjoy good-to-great potential, but they are struggling finding minutes on the court for the French team. The last round of the Euroleague’s top-16, a meaningless game for Pau against Tau Vitoria, was a perfect opportunity for his coach to give them some burn.

Ludovic Vaty even started for his team, although he only stayed on court for 13 minutes. Although nothing more than garbage time, he’s been the one receiving seeing more action during the season. It makes sense, since he’s a strong and fairly athletic guy who rarely suffers physically against top European competition. Facing Tau, besdes a surprising spot-up three pointer that didn’t go in, he looked very similar to the player we saw last summer, playing very close to the basket and still lacking a reliable touch to consistently net the ball. He was aggressive on the offensive glass, grabbing 4 rebounds (although 2 of them were off his own missed shots), while he did a decent job on defense. He needs to work on his skill repertoire, but apparently he looks ready to contribute at some (small) degree to his team.

Alexis Ajinca had played a grand total of 16 minutes combining both the Euroleague and French LNB. He was injured coming into the season, but being healthy for an extended period of time now, it seems that he’s not being counted on by his coach at all. It’s relatively understandable after watching him against Tau. Contrary to what he did last summer, Ajinca seems to be back to the power forward spot now, playing mostly facing the basket. Obviously, to battle under the rim with his super-skinny frame is a lost cause. However, he keeps filling out his body slowly, but steadily. He still gets outmuscled, but not as blatantly as before. Anyway, despite looking greatly intriguing with that incredibly long frame and nice mobility evolving on court, he wasn’t effective this time. He missed a couple of three-point jumpers, committed an offensive foul when he put the ball on the floor to attack a rival, and also committed a turnover when he tried to dribble past a smaller defender from his own court to solve a full-court pressure. Highly predictable stuff for a guy of his characteristics, who is clearly not used to this level of competition. That’s why Ajinca needs playing time like he needs air; he can become a freakishly amazing 7-1 PF with a great feel for the ball. Still, it’s hard to bet on a guy that will likely make you less competitive in the short term and you know will probably be gone as soon as he blossoms; meaning that he will have to convince his coach in practices to give him that playing time.

Rounding Up…

According to the Spanish newspaper elcorreodigital, Tau Vitoria is very interested in Vladimir Dasic, the very talented forward from Montenegro that plays for Buducnost in the Adriatic League. It’s not that much of a surprise since Tau’s new field commander, Boza Maljkovic, had already tried to bring him to Real Madrid a couple of years ago, when he was coaching there. However, it seems like a long-shot for Tau to sign Dasic, since his team would likely ask for a very big sum (there were rumors at the time stating that the failed deal with Real Madrid was estimated at close to 2 million Euros).

Henk Norel has extended his contract with DKV Joventut for two more seasons, until 2010. Still 19 years old, he currently plays on loaned in Prat, in LEB-2 (third Spanish division), where he averages 12.6 points and 8.5 rebounds. It’s highly likely that he will get playing time with Joventut’s first team next season. Anyway, check future editions of the roundup for more in-depth information on him.

After his excellent performance in the ACB League, featured here on DraftExpress, Marc Gasol earned MVP of the week honors in the ACB League. In less than 30 minutes, he scored 16 points with great accuracy (5/6 from the field, 6/7 from the line), grabbed 13 rebounds, dished out 1 assist and had 2 blocks. This weekly honor is purely based on efficiency scoring (similar to the one used by the NBA, but taking fouls committed and drawn into account) and nobody came close to Gasol’s 36 efficiency points.

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