With less than a day remaining until the NBA begins its annual musical chairs dance, very little is known about which direction the lone Canadian franchise will choose. Will Ujiri stay or go? Will the club opt for maximizing the current window, begin a full rebuild, or something in between? Does Lowry even want to stay? In nearly every scenario, the team’s salary structure places a significant constraint on any decision to be made this summer (Blake’s primer).
With that in mind, I chose to focus on a free agent I believe the Raptors should pursue with the MLE if they decide they want to stay competitive – 29-year-old forward Omri Casspi. The 6-foot-9 veteran has become an unrestricted free agent following one of the worst seasons of his career – he was erased from Dave Joerger’s rotation early in the year at Sacramento, got injured in his first game with the Pelicans, was subsequently waived by New Orleans, and closed out the campaign with a whimper in Minnesota. The jury is still out whether the events of the last twelve months lowered his value to the MLE level, but the scenario appears realistic enough to consider.
The curious part of the story is that Casspi is only a year removed from his most complete season in 2015/16, when he posted career highs in nearly every statistical category, including points (11.8), rebounds (5.9) and 3-point percentage (40.9%). With his value at arguably an all-time low, Casspi will be looking for the right fit and environment to reinvigorate his career. Could Toronto be that fit?
Every role player intent on a long career in the NBA needs at least one skill at an elite or close to it level, and Casspi has found his. By far the most marketable skill in his arsenal is the long range bomb. The Israeli forward has posted a 36.7% conversion rate throughout his career from long range. More impressively, two of his best marks came within the last three seasons, posting 40.2% in the 14/15 campaign (0.5 makes per game), and the aforementioned 40.9% in 15/16 (1.6 makes per contest). Like the rest of his game, with the tumultuous season that saw him suit up for three different franchises in 2016/17, his long range shot dipped to 34.9% (0.4 makes). Shooting and spacing is crucial in today’s NBA, and the Raptors especially need more of it.
If one were to make the argument that those two 40+ seasons were an aberration and Casspi will likely regress closer to his career norms, the point can be made that Patterson would give the Raptors exactly the same output (36.8% career 3-point shooter). This ignores a noteworthy difference between the two players – Omri Casspi will never pass up an open shot. As much as he’s trademarked the triple of late, an underrated part of his game is his mentality – he has the mentality of a shooter, oozing confidence whether he’s finding the bottom of the net or not. And when he does get it going, watch out (as the duel against Steph Curry in Casspi’s 36-point explosion against the Warriors in 2015 suggests):
Another part of his game that needed work was strength, to equip himself with the tools necessary to become a better rebounder and be a viable option as a power forward. This improvement, too, was showcased in the season before last, as he recorded 5.9 rebounds per contest and posted a 20.1 defensive rebound percentage (stands at 17% for his career, comparable to guys like Bebe Nogueira, Amir Johnson and Tyreke Evans).
What the Raptors would get with Casspi is a veteran who knows his role, exudes confidence, and is a legitimate stretch-four who is capable of running the floor (he hasn’t dipped below 47% from the field in the past three seasons). Becoming a consistent presence on the defensive glass would be an added bonus.
Casspi is not considered a defensive stalwart by any means, especially when compared with the high-IQ play of Patterson on that end of the floor. That was likely part of the reason he fell out of Houston’s rotation come playoff time in 2013/14, the only season he spent on a winning roster. To date, Omri has not appeared in a postseason game, partly due to the fact that most of his career was spent with the dysfunctional Kings. That could be a deal breaker for a team aiming to make a deep run, as he’ll have little time to adjust to the higher level of intensity.
Another surprising knock on Casspi is his below-average free throw shooting – 67.5% for his career. Worse still, he posted marks below 65% in the last two seasons. This is unusual for a quality long range shooter, but doesn’t stand to be a major issue as he only attempts 1.9 free throws per contest. He also has a penchant for dribbling himself into trouble trying to break down his man, resulting in wild passes out to the perimeter that sometimes miss their mark or get picked off. Both of these deficiencies can be mitigated by limiting him to being a spot up threat and transition finisher on offense, which is often all that’s required when playing alongside two ball-dominant star guards in Lowry and DeRozan.
At the end of the day, the Raptors won’t have much cap room to work with, and at the MLE level, finding a quality two-way player may be asking too much. At that price range a team will be looking for a specialized role player with the right mentality. Casspi would fill a glaring hole within the roster when it comes to shooting, and won’t be afraid to keep hoisting them anytime he sees daylight. If rebuilding is taken off the table, this is the guy Ujiri and Webster should target this July.