Kings forward Omri Casspi had barely checked into Wednesday night’s game against the Pistons when center DeMarcus Cousins found him open in the corner for a three-pointer. Casspi took Cousins’ kick-out pass and knocked down the shot.
Early in the second quarter, Casspi received a pass above the arc on the wing. This time, he passed up the three-pointer, pump-faking to draw a defender off his feet, and instead drove into the vacated space and finished with a floater from 6 feet.
In his seventh NBA season, Casspi said he has seen offenses around the league evolve since his debut. And possessions like those two Wednesday night indicate the changes suit him.
“I think just the NBA’s changed – less mid-range jump shots, more (attempts at the) rim, more threes and free throws,” Casspi said. “And I feel like our spacing (in the Kings’ offensive system) preaches that. With my game, I feel like I’ve always been that type of player, so I feel comfortable.”
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It may help explain why Casspi, 27, is off to such an efficient offensive start through the Kings’ first nine games, following a 2014-15 season that was perhaps the best of his career in terms of shooting. Entering Friday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, Casspi is averaging 10.7 points per game while shooting 52.9 percent from the field. That includes making 57.1 percent of his three-point attempts, the third-highest mark among NBA players with at least 20 attempts.
Last season, Casspi set career bests in shooting percentage (48.9) and three-point shooting (40.2). Those numbers jumped after George Karl became the Kings’ head coach in February. Under Karl, Casspi shot 47.5 percent overall and 46.2 percent from three-point range, while averaging 11.2 points and 4.7 rebounds.
Casspi said the Kings’ offense “preaches spacing and knocking down open shots, so I feel like the system puts me in a good position to shoot the ball.”
Karl said aspects of the offense, which emphasizes energy and tempo, do play to Casspi’s natural strengths.
“I think he understands flow; he understands the pace of the game,” Karl said. “He’s one of our faster runners and gets in the open court in a good way many times.
“And he knows how to play off of good players. He knows how to find open shots when Cuz is being double-teamed, or when there’s an isolation with Rudy (Gay). He knows how to get open by figuring out the player the defense is tilting toward.”
Casspi little resembled the sparkplug of last spring in the preseason while he battled lingering aches and an illness. But Karl said Casspi had earned some leeway with his play toward the end of last season, and Casspi said he wasn’t worried by his lack of production in the Kings’ early exhibition games.
“I felt like once I got my rhythm and legs back, I’d feel great,” Casspi said.
Rhythm, Casspi said, is the main goal of his offseason shooting work. That’s achieved partly through volume: Casspi said his summer regimen includes making 1,000 shots a day. He is more apt to try new shooting drills in the summer – one online video shows Casspi in a drill where he must make a series of shots from different spots around the court, returning to the previous spot if he misses.
“It’s just getting a lot of shots up,” Casspi said. “Shots and shots and shots.”
During the season, Casspi said he prefers to follow a routine between games that is more about fine-tuning. While shooting, he’ll examine a series of aspects of his shot that serve somewhat like checkpoints – the arc, how his legs feel and so on – “just trying to make sure that everything is on point.”
According to NBA.com, Casspi is 8 of 10 this season on three-point attempts from 20 to 24 feet, and he has been an effective finisher around the rim, making 20 of 27 attempts from within 5 feet. He cautioned Wednesday that it’s “still early,” but said he does feel his numbers so far are an extension of his improvement late last season.
“I think it’s just a matter of hard work and just getting to know and trying to master your shot,” Casspi said. “I want to keep doing that.”