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Casspi's passion clear in early going in Sacramento

By Drew Packham,
Posted Nov 11 2009 12:06PM

There's nothing like the passion of a rookie.

And from what I've seen, there are few rookies as passionate as Sacramento's Omri Casspi.

Much has been made of the 21-year-old Casspi, the first Israeli-born player in the NBA. Casspi is playing 23 minutes per game, averaging almost 10 points while hitting nine of 19 three-point attempts. The Kings nabbed Casspi with the 23rd pick in the Draft, and they've been pleasantly surprised with what they've seen.

"He's a rookie," Sacramento coach Paul Westphal told the Salt Lake Tribune. "He's got his ups and downs and a lot to learn like every rookie. But we really like him. He attacks the game with a passion."

That joie de vivre was on display this week in the Kings' 120-107 win over the Warriors. With just over two minutes left, Casspi hit a 3-pointer -- his fourth of the game -- to stretch the Kings' lead to 19. Back on the defensive end, Casspi energetically clapped his hands as if to say to his teammates, "Let's go!". The Kings were up 19 points.

"He's going to make it in this league," Westphal said. "He's going to have a long career."'s Rookie Rankings are just one man's opinion and are released every Wednesday during the season. If you've got an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for Drew Packham, send him an e-mail. You can also follow him on Twitter.

1. Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 4 | Drafted: 4
With Kevin Martin sidelined, Evans has stepped up and proven he's the real deal. In three games -- all wins -- Evans averaged 25.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists to help the Kings improve to .500 for the first time since Dec. 4, 2006. Kings coach Paul Westphal, though, likes what he gets on the other end of the floor. "Honestly, Tyreke's one of the better defensive players in the league already," Westphal told the Sacramento Bee. "He is very, very solid. He's got great defensive fundamentals, and he can guard ones, twos and threes. He's pretty much our best defender at any of those positions."

2. Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 1 | Drafted: 10
My favorite part about a recent interview on ESPN wasn't the fact that 20-year-old Brandon Jennings called 19-year-old Ricky Rubio "kid" on several occasions, but rather the fact that he doesn't know teammate Andrew Bogut's last name. This is not the first time I've heard him call the Aussie center "Bogan". What, like Keith Bogans' (he of the Spurs) long-lost cousin? Regardless, the Bucks went 2-0 this week despite Jennings' subpar stats (14 ppg, 3 apg, 11-for-32 shooting).

3. Jonny Flynn, Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 3 | Drafted: 6
All those comparisons between Flynn and Jennings? Throw 'em out, says Wolves coach Kurt Rambis. "It's not fair," Rambis told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "[Jennings] has a lot more freedom than Jonny has. I'm asking Jonny to do a lot more things. He's in a much more complicated offense. So in terms of his individual expression, I've held Jonny down. He's not going to like to do it. But I think it's going to make him a better point guard once he learns those lessons. Then, I'll loosen the reins and let him do more of what he really wants to do." I, for one, can't wait to see a Flynn without any reins.

4. Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 10 | Drafted: 18
The first thing you notice about Lawson is his speed. Teammate Chauncey Billups compares him to Brevin Knight, another lightning-quick point guard. "Ty is really, really fast, and most guys have to get low instead of standing straight up. He's got a special gift," Billups told the Denver Post. "He's small in stature, but he's stronger than people think. You can't just knock him around. He's low to the ground, like a pit bull. But a lot faster than a pit bull." That's a race I'd pay to see.

5. DeJuan Blair, San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 7 | Drafted: 37
Blair came back to earth a little this week. Granted, he only saw 10 minutes of action, but in the Spurs' 96-84 loss in Portland, Blair was held scoreless and hauled in just four rebounds. Monday night, with both Tony Parker and Tim Duncan sidelined, I expected Blair to be more involved offensively. But he finished with just six points and seven boards while dealing with foul trouble in the Spurs' 131-124 win over the Raptors. Despite the struggles, Blair's impact can't be denied. The fact that he's leading rookies in rebounding in just under 19 minutes per game is testament to that impact.

6. Chase Budinger, Houston Rockets
Last Week: 6 | Drafted: 44
Budinger's fanbase is growing with every game, and you can count teammate Shane Battier as one of Budinger's biggest acolytes. "Chase is going to be a really, really good player in this league for many years," Battier told HOOPSWORLD. "He has all the physical tools, can shoot the ball, he's athletic, but more important he really knows how to play and has a desire to get better. That's what impressive in a young guy." Budinger's numbers may not be as gaudy as some of the other rookies, but his impact is keeping him high on the rankings.

7. Omri Casspi, Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 9 | Drafted: 23
If there's a weakness in Casspi's game, it's his free-throw shooting. Through the Kings' first eight games, Casspi is just 3-for-15 (.200). After Casspi's first double-digit rebound game Sunday against the Warriors, coach Paul Westphal teased the Israeli about his performance. "He's been hiding that skill from us," Westphal said of the rebounds. "I think he got more rebounds in this game than he's got all season. He's rebounding like [Jon] Brockman, shooting free throws like Brockman." Brockman, a fellow rookie, is 1-for-7 from the line.

8. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 2 | Drafted: 7
Think Curry would have the support of his teammates for Rookie of the Year consideration? Think again. After the Warriors' loss to Tyreke Evans and the Kings on Sunday, Jackson made his vote. "Rookie of the Year should be locked in," Jackson said, referring to Evans. Granted, Jackson may not be in the Bay Area much longer, but I'm sure Curry would like to think his teammate has his back.

9. Terrence Williams, New Jersey Nets
Last Week: 5 | Drafted: 11
Williams is quietly putting up decent numbers in New Jersey, averaging 10.0 points (sixth among rookies) and 5.3 rebounds (2nd). But there's one area he's being shut down: Twitter. Until the Nets win, @TheRealTWill has put a self-imposed ban on his tweets. Here's hoping the Nets win soon, so we can get more gems like this one: "Why the hell people book massages weeks in advance that make it hard for me to just call an get a massage ugh".

10. Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls
Last Week: NR | Drafted: 26
With Tyrus Thomas sidelined with a broken arm, the Bulls have turned to Gibson to fill in. The USC product has started the last four games, averaging 8.0 points and 5.2 rebounds in about 25 minutes per game. Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro has also said fellow rookie James Johnson may see increased playing time, but for now it's Gibson who's seeing an increased role.

Honorable Mention: Jonas Jerebko, Detroit Pistons: As fill-in for Tayshaun Prince, averaging 9.0 points, 4.6 rebounds his last three games while going 11-for-16 from the floor; Toney Douglas, New York Knicks: Averaged 18.5 points in his last two games and had a shot rim out at the buzzer that would have tied the Jazz; Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers: Had a season-high eight points in 15 minutes against the Suns and showed glimpses of his talent; Tyler Hansbrough, Indiana Pacers: Had 13 points, five rebounds in his first action of the season; DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors: Still starting in Toronto, but falls out of the top 10. Antoine Wright is breathing down his neck; Jodie Meeks, Milwaukee Bucks: Had 19 points in Bucks' win over the Knicks.

All statistics are through Tuesday's games.

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