Current Jewish NBA Players

In terms of Jewish NBA players, the list is pretty thin. In fact, there seems to be only two active NBA players who are Jewish, and that is Omri Casspi and Jordan Farmar.

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.

Omri Casspi

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:

Per Game
Year Team G MPG PPG RPG APG SPG BPG TOPG FG% 3P% FT%
09-10 Sac 77 25.1 10.3 4.5 1.2 0.7 0.2 1.3 .446 .369 .672
10-11 Sac 71 24.0 8.6 4.3 1.0 0.8 0.2 1.0 .412 .372 .673
11-12 Cle 65 20.6 7.1 3.5 1.0 0.6 0.3 1.0 .403 .315 .685
12-13 Cle 43 11.7 4.0 2.7 0.7 0.6 0.3 0.5 .394 .329 .537
13-14 Hou 71 18.1 6.9 3.7 1.2 0.6 0.2 1.0 .422 .347 .680
14-15 Sac 67 21.1 8.9 3.9 1.5 0.5 0.1 1.3 .489 .402 .733
15-16 Sac 69 27.2 11.8 5.9 1.4 0.8 0.2 1.4 .481 .409 .648
16-17 Sac 22 18.0 5.9 4.1 1.2 0.5 0.0 0.8 .453 .379 .571
16-17 NO 1 24.0 12.0 2.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 2.0 .556 .500
16-17 Min 13 17.1 3.5 1.5 0.8 1.0 0.2 0.8 .500 .200 .625
16-17 Total 36 17.9 5.2 3.1 1.0 0.6 0.1 0.8 .470 .349 .586
17-18 GS 53 14.0 5.7 3.8 1.0 0.3 0.4 0.7 .580 .455 .725
Career 552 20.7 8.0 4.1 1.2 0.6 0.2 1.0 .451 .369 .678

On July 11, 2018, Casspi signed with the Memphis Grizzlies, and figures to provide veteran leadership as they attempt to return to the playoffs.

TJ Leaf

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.

TJ LEAF PPG 3PT% FT% FG% ASSISTS BLOCKS STEALS OREB DREB MIN
2017-18 12.7 20 57.1 48.5 3 0 2 5 14 80
NBA Rank 439th 38th 418th 181st 439th 424th 255th 368th 361st

Recent Jewish NBA Players:

Jordan Farmar
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.

Year Team GP GS MPG FG% 3P% FT% RPG APG SPG BPG PPG
2006–07 L.A. Lakers 72 2 15.1 .422 .328 .711 1.7 1.9 .6 .1 4.4
2007–08 L.A. Lakers 82 0 20.6 .461 .371 .679 2.2 2.7 .9 .1 9.1
2008–09 L.A. Lakers 65 0 18.3 .391 .336 .584 1.8 2.4 .9 .2 6.4
2009–10 L.A. Lakers 82 0 18.0 .435 .376 .671 1.6 1.5 .6 .1 7.2
2010–11 New Jersey 73 18 24.6 .392 .359 .820 2.4 5.0 .8 .1 9.6
2011–12 New Jersey 39 5 21.3 .467 .440 .905 1.6 3.3 .6 .1 10.4
2013–14 L.A. Lakers 41 5 22.2 .415 .438 .746 2.5 4.9 .9 .2 10.1
2014–15 L.A. Clippers 36 0 14.7 .386 .361 .909 1.2 1.9 .6 .1 4.6
2015–16 Memphis 12 10 24.3 .420 .356 1.000 2.1 3.1 1.3 .2 9.2
2016–17 Sacramento 2 0 17.5 .333 .444 1.5 4.5 1.0 .0 6.0
Career 504 40 19.5 .423 .374 .739 1.9 2.9 .8 .1 7.7

Playoffs

Year Team GP GS MPG FG% 3P% FT% RPG APG SPG BPG PPG
2007 L.A. Lakers 5 5 22.8 .429 .200 .857 2.8 1.6 1.2 .2 6.4
2008 L.A. Lakers 21 0 17.1 .383 .386 .875 1.6 1.3 .3 .2 5.7
2009 L.A. Lakers 20 1 13.0 .391 .308 .737 1.6 1.7 .5 .2 4.7
2010 L.A. Lakers 23 0 13.1 .404 .400 .692 1.2 1.4 .7 .0 4.6
2016 Memphis 4 4 28.3 .323 .333 1.000 1.5 4.0 .8 .3 6.8
Career 73 10 15.7 .389 .355 .793 1.5 1.6 .6 .1 5.2

 

Gal Mekel

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:

Year Team GP GS MPG FG% 3P% FT% RPG APG SPG BPG PPG
2013–14 Dallas 31 1 9.4 .349 .250 .667 .9 2.0 .1 .0 2.4
2014–15 New Orleans 4 0 10.8 .150 .0 .0 .3 3.3 .5 .0 1.5
Career   35 1 9.6 .311 .217 .667 .8 2.2 .2 .0 2.3

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.

This article overlaps with our NBA players from Israel page. Also, be sure to check out our new list of Italian NBA players!

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