and now he's even older.
On more than one occasion, I've alluded to the similarities between Sam Cassell's statistics in his final season in Minnesota (04-05) and last season (06-07). It's not rocket science - here are the significant numbers:
- 13.5 points per game in just under 26 minutes per in 59 games in 04-05;
- 12.3 in just over 24 minutes per in 58 games in 06-07.
What makes the numbers really jump out at you is the fact that every other season this century, Cassell has averaged at least 34 minutes per game, played in at least 74 games, and averaged at least 17 points. The season sandwiched between those two clunkers, Cassell's first season with the Clippers, he went for 17.4 points in 34 minutes across 78 games.
My point is this - Minnesota (and most of the league really) had given up on Sam Cassell by June 2005. He had just experienced a precipitous drop off in his statistical output, and suffered through a spate of minor, lingering injuries that quite frankly, seemed to speak to his age (he was 35, about to turn 36). Why did Minnesota trade a player who had been 3rd team all-NBA the season prior for a marginal combo-Euro-guard with the beadiest eyes this side of the KGB? And why did they have to toss in a first round pick just to get that deal done? And why did no other NBA team step forward with a better offer? Because the league assumed that Sam Cassell was done.
Clipper fans were cautiously optimistic at the time - and of course we knew that we hadn't given up much in Marko Jaric. But even the most optimistic among the Citizens of ClipsNation could not have foreseen Cassell's Clipper debut, November 2 2005 - 35 points and 11 assists against Seattle, including 15 points in the fourth quarter of a come-from-behind victory ON THE ROAD. Of course we all know what happened next, with Cassell playing a vital leadership role in the most successful season in Clippers history.
I'm saying: predict the end of Sam Cassell's career at your own risk. He is not planning to cooperate.
On Wednesday night Sam Cassell sent a message not unlike the one in Seattle two years ago. Sure, it was only a pre-season game. But in his first game action in almost 6 months, feeling relatively healthy for the first time in significantly longer than that, Sam Cassell scored 21 points in 24 minutes against the Blazers. I know, I know, pre-season, who cares? Well, Sam Cassell cares, that's who. Consider this: Cassell played as many as 24 minutes exactly one time the final 25 games of last season. With the Clippers in a playoff race. And Jason Hart starting. He hadn't scored as many as 20 points since February 9. When Sam went out and scored 16 points in the first quarter on 7 for 9 shooting, it was his way of saying, "See, I told you I can still play."
Who knows if his soon to be 38 year old body can hold up? I'm certainly not predicting 34 minutes and 18 points and 80 games for the man. But most NBA observers were just as certain in October 2005 that Sam Cassell's body couldn't hold up for another NBA season, and he proved them wrong. I get the impression he kind of likes doing that. He worked hard to get into shape this summer. He says he feels great. His game is not, nor has it ever been, predicated on explosiveness. The only thing about Sam Cassell that can be described as 'athletic' is his mouth. His game lives in the sliver of daylight between himself and his defender as he moves, slowly, surely, inexorably to his left. He doesn't need much room to get that shot away. And he believes he can get that shot away at 38 as effectively as he could at 28.
Who am I to doubt him?