The immediate question is: Why so few Jews in the NBA in 2018?
Why is there such a dearth of current Jewish NBA players, especially considering that there are at least 10 Jews currently playing in the MLB.
I suppose the reason is due to the large enclaves of Jews in inner cities who mostly embraced baseball while growing up. Stickball or baseball dominated inner cities like New York City, (all of 5 boroughs), Chicago, and a few others.
As for basketball, well, the funny but unfortunate truth is that Jews were never known for being physically imposing (Kevin Youkilis and Bill Goldberg are the execptions). Jews are known less for brawn and more for smarts. Hence, the dearth of Jews in the NBA and NFL. Though the early days of the NBA had plenty of Jewish stars, notably Dolph Schayes. Nowadays, however, there seems to exist more of a pipeline from Israel (the lack of physicality doesn't exist as much with Israel as it does with Jews) in general, with Casspi being a shining example.
Casspi, who is both Israeli and Jewish, was surprisingly drafted early with the 23rd overall in the 2009 NBA draft by the hapless Sacramento Kings. Though other Israelis had indeed been drafted in the past, Casspi was the first to crack the 1st round, and was actually expected to contribute, and ended up being the first Israeli to play in the NBA.
Casspi was then traded in 2011 to the Cavs. He then signed with the Rockets in 2013, then traded to the Pelicans in 2014, then waived. Unsurprisingly, Casspi came back home to the Kings (or perhaps it was surprising, since Casspi seems to be the only NBA player to enjoy playing for the pathetic Sacramento Kings), and he re-upped with them in 2014.
In terms of effectiveness, Casspi has definitely made strides as a rotation player. This past season he put up 11 ppg with 40% from 3. With today's NBA gravitating toward 3 and D guys who can run, Casspi has suddenly become valuable. Check out his career stats:
On July 11, 2018, Casspi signed with the Memphis Grizzlies, and figures to provide veteran leadership as they attempt to return to the playoffs.
Leaf was born in Tel Aviv, Israel, and moved to California as a kid, and ended up playing for the UCLA Bruins. He was later selected by the Pacers in the first round of the 2017 NBA draft with the 18th overall pick.
Leaf figures to have a promising NBA career – standing at 6'10 and weighing 230 lb, with a shot that stretches out to the 3 point line, he is suited for the modern NBA. We expect him to get more playing time as the upcoming season progresses.
Recent Jewish NBA Players:
Although he's no Smush Parker, Farmar is a local legend when people talk about former LA Lakers' point guards. Farmar has the best of both worlds: his mother is Jewish, (making him fully Jewish according to Jewish law), and his father was a minor league baseball player, thereby giving him the athleticism that seems to escape most Jews. Jordan Farmar even went to Hebrew School in LA, and had a Bar Mitzvah.
As for his NBA prowess, well, Farmar is no slouch, as he has eked out a moderately successful NBA career. Although never really a starter, Farmar is a top notch backup point guard, who knows how to run an offense and keep things fluid. He won't take over a game, but he'l keep things stable and can score occasionally as well.
Farmar's biggest contribution came in the playoffs (he is a two time champ), and his performance in the 2009-2010 playoffs (particularly in the Finals) were rock solid, providing smart passing and solid long distance shooting down the stretch.
Mekel has had an interesting journey in recent years, but is no longer in the NBA.
After playing NCAA with two years at Wichita State, he played in Israel and then Italy. In 2013, he signed a three-year minimum salaried contract with the Dallas Mavericks. In doing so, he became the 2nd Israeli in the NBA (Casspi was the first). Unfortunately for Mekel, his NBA career didn't last long, with his paltry career numbers as evidence:
Though Mekel is not an active player, he is certainly on the fringe, and on the radar of a handful of GM's who need reserve point guards.