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News, observations and reader questions about the Sacramento Kings and the NBA.

January 7, 2010
Casspi over Evans? ESPN's David Thorpe explains

Kings coach Paul Westphal has an enviable problem coming around the bend. Sometime in the near future, shooting guard Kevin Martin will return and Westphal will have to change his rotations and roles accordingly while figuring out how to maximize the potentially-potent backcourt of Martin and Tyreke Evans.

Well thanks to David Thorpe's latest Rookie Rankings at (which are Insider only, unfortunately), Kings fans can now relate when it comes to having the best kinds of troubles.

Surprisingly, Omri Casspi was given the top spot and Tyreke Evans was bumped to No. 2. Now before the reaction begins, I'll advise fans to not only read the rankings and explanations involved thoroughly but to also listen to or read the below interview. Evans' ankle problems and three missed games are the main reason he dropped, with Casspi's phenomenal week making it easy to move him up after he was third overall last week. Overall, Thorpe makes it clear Evans remains the Rookie of the Year frontrunner by a long shot over Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings and Casspi.

Nonetheless, the rankings have the potential to be even more controversial when it's considered that Thorpe - a personal coach who has worked with Martin for his entire NBA career - trained Casspi at his Bradenton, Fla. facility over the summer. David was good enough to spend some time explaining his thinking regarding the rankings and to talk about how he juggles the the job of analyst while also having business relationships with so many of the players he analyzes. Lastly, he weighs in on the eventual Evans-Martin pairing and predicts good things to come. Thorpe is in town to work with Martin while also wanting to observe and evaluate fellow Rookie Ranking regular Stephen Curry of the Warriors in tomorrow's game.

The transcribed interview is below (or on the other side of the below link), and the audio file is just over 10 minutes long.


On why he put Casspi in the top spot...

"Tyreke, first of all, was out for three games, so the way, Sam, that I break things down is I always look at cumulative stats over the course of a season. Evans is far and away the most productive, efficient player over the course of the entire season. Jennings, far and away, is the second most. Omri is clearly the third best rookie in that scale. But to do it that way isn't as interesting because of the ups and downs of the week-to-week situation, so I have to also be sensitive to what's going on now.

"So for example, let's say Jon Brockman scored 25 points the next three games. He wouldn't suddenly be No. 1 for me, because he's not anywhere close to being top 10 or even top 20 probably over the course of the season in terms of productive, efficient stats. Omri being third, and then all of a sudden having a week where he had four straight games (scoring) more than 20 points, he has made a three in 15 straight games. I watched the Phoenix game, and he's guarding everyone from Steve Nash to Amare Stoudemire on a switch, and he's competing hard.

"When Tyreke goes out, he was your best offensive player. I factor all that in, and at this time he's the best rookie playing over this one week. Next week? He's not going to drop to 10 or 11, but he might drop to two or three. Evans now is back and somewhat healthy, and he certainly has the ability to have some big numbers and he had 20-something the other night again. More than likely, Tyreke is going to be No. 1 most of the rest of the season but from week to week it could change a little bit."

On the potential for a conflict of interest between his jobs...

"That's a great question, but it's something that my editors have talked to me about going on four years ago now when I first started working there. I'm a teacher, and so when people are in my gym I'm teaching them the best that I can. But as an analyst, I have to analyze. And the thing that probably keeps me in the business as much as anything is that - in many circles anyway, or most circles - I think I still have credibility. But you lose credibility if you start allowing your emotions to dictate how you analyze. I don't want to lose my credibility. I don't want to lose my position in the business, and so I have to make sure that what I'm doing is fact-based.

"Again, if I had Casspi No. 1 three weeks ago when he was averaging 12 or 13 points a game and playing good, I think I would have lost some credibility. But it's hard to argue with what he has been doing lately, and it's not unique to the rookies, by the way. I train a lot of NBA players during the offseason, and I talk and write about them on all the different ESPN outlets. And I don't really think about who has been in my gym or hasn't been in my gym when I'm analyzing the San Antonio Spurs because DeJuan Blair was with me for five or six weeks. He's one small factor in a big pond.

"When it comes to the rookies, it's the same thing. I look at what they've done, currently and over the course of the season, and I put it all together in the best (John) Hollinger-like formula that I can that's not just strictly based on math. And there's always going to be detractors. I can't worry about that as long as I feel really good and my editors feel really good about how I've analyzed, whether it's the rookie report or other stuff that I do, I can rest easy at night."

On whether he's surprised by Casspi's play...

"I'm not too surprised, (but) I sure didn't expect this much this soon in two different areas. I thought that he would be a 40 percent three-point shooter this year, give or take between 38 and 42 is what I told him. Not based on what I saw at summer league, because he struggled in summer league, but the things he was doing wrong at summer league were easily correctable and so we addressed that when he was with me. So when I saw him in my gym every day, where I had a couple other 40 percent three-point shooters like Courtney Lee and Kevin Martin, and Rob Kurz, who is the best shooter of all of them probably, who's in the D-League now and was with Golden State last year, Omri was shooting as good as those guys were.

"And the drills that I do tend to be as NBA-realistic as you can possibly get without playing five on five, and he was making them there so I thought he'd probably be about a 40 percent three-point shooter. He has been a little better now than I would have expected, and I told him to his face that I thought he'd be starting by the All-Star break. Because of the fit with Tyreke and Kevin at the one-two - obviously no one expected the injuries that have happened - I thought the team would be better off bringing Francisco (Garcia) off the bench. He can be the first guy in at every one of those three positions, one, two, or three. And I thought it'd be better for the team, that with Omri not being a guy who's going to score 20-plus points a game - although he's doing that right now - he'd be the best fit at the three because of all the other stuff he brought. So he's a little bit ahead of schedule, but the injuries have helped that."

On Tyreke's progression and the hot topic question of whether he's really a point guard....

"I really enjoyed watching him play last night (against Phoenix) in person. I've seen him a couple times now in person. Tyreke's physical gifts are tremendous, and his willingness to use them. I love the fact that he's really gotten the idea that he can be a dominant rebounder for his position. And I love the fact that he's always looking to pound little guys in the paint off drives, off back-ins, posting up obviously. And I think that if he shoots the ball a little bit less from the perimeter now, he'd be a little bit more effective in the short-term. In the long-term he's going to have to make that shot.

"I have no doubt about a couple things. I have no doubt that he's going to become a better shooter than what he is now because it's one of the easiest things to get better at. And I also have no doubt that he's a point guard. To be honest with you Sam, I don't understand the fuss over this. Our league is filled with all sorts of different types of players, and all sorts of different kinds of positions. We could pick almost any player and ask, 'What's his real position?' It's just kind of how the NBA is now. Unless Tyreke gets so big in terms of muscle that he literally can't move as fluidly as he does now, the guy can be your primary ball handler. He's an unselfish player, he's a willing passer. Can he learn to be more of a ball-mover? Of course. Almost any young player - I watched Jonny Flynn in person, and Jonny is a little guy and is just as focused sometimes on scoring as Tyreke is. I'd rather have a 6-foot-6, 220-pound guy doing it rather than a little guy if he's your primary starting point guard.

On how he sees Evans fitting with Martin...

"I think he's an unbelievable fit with a guy like Kevin. Almost anybody can play with a guy like Kevin because of the nature of his game. But the two of them together - and Kevin and I have talked about this - can really be maybe the best backcourt in the league. That should be their ceiling. Their goal should be we're going to be the best 1-2 punch in the league because our game complements each other. As opposed, for example, to if Dwyane Wade came to Sacramento. Wade and Tyreke's games don't complement each other because they're both primary ball handlers.

"Kevin and Tyreke are an unbelievable fit together potentially, and my advice to Kevin has been from Day One: get to be as close of friends with Tyreke, and a mentor, as you possibly can, because that kind of chemistry - like a Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton deal - can really make a difference in a young player's career. It's just like how guys kind of took Kevin under their wing when he was here, and I don't want there to be any potential animosity because one guy is the leading scorer and another guy comes in as a scorer. They should be able to play well together and both score. And I think Kevin is super excited to have that. He loved it when he first came here, and Tyreke hadn't found his groove yet. Now that Tyreke has found his groove, Kevin is dying to get back on the court and see what they can do together."

On how unique this Kings' draft class is...

"Let's put it this way. I think both Tyreke and Omri are all-star potential players. Tyreke obviously has more potential to be an All-Star than Omri does, but when you can shoot 40-plus percent from three the way Casspi can and run the floor - race the floor - the way Casspi can, and he's also a guy who can take advantage of size inside as we've seen game in and game out.

"At 6-foot-9, he's got All-Star potential. Evans obviously does. I can't remember a draft class that had two potential All-Stars in the same class. Brockman, to me, and I'm falling in love with him. I didn't like him at all this summer. I thought he was a borderline NBA player. I'm not sure ultimately that I was wrong, because unless he can knock in the perimeter jumper with much more consistency than he can now, I still worry about his NBA future. It's not that he can't play in the NBA, but teams after a year or two tend to move on from a player like that unless he can make shots.

"And I think he is going to learn how to make shots. He reminds me very much of the kind of impact a guy like Reggie Evans has off the bench. I think that he is the guy who you bring off the bench, you never run a play for him, he's going to get his hands on the ball anyways. He's going to buy your team possessions. I also think he can be a great screener. I think he's a guy who will always appreciate having a place in the league, so you're never going to worry about, 'Is he not getting enough touches? Is he upset about it?' I think he'll stick around if he can make that shot, and I think he can (make) a contribution on a nightly basis whether as a rotation player or someone where you pick and choose your spots remains to be seen. He's got to be able to knock that shot down.

"But to be able to have three guys like that? And the reality is that they made some trades on draft day or they could have had DeJuan Blair, which would have been even better. Brockman is not a bad second choice when you consider (him) with Casspi and Evans. Going into the draft, you were hoping they'd have a good draft, and it looks like now they had one of the best drafts of the decade. Over the last 10 years or so, they've got to be ranked in the top five right now." - Sam Amick

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