Gal Mekel -- the NBA's second Israel-born player -- began his stateside career in college at Wichita State, where he played two fairly unimpressive seasons.
His freshman year he averaged just four points in 13 minutes of action. As a sophomore, he gained more playing time, and averaged over nine points a game, but shot just 35% from the field. Not exactly the profile of a future pro.
At the end of the 2007-08 campaign, Mekel signed a deal with Maccabi Tel Aviv, an Israel League professional basketball team. A little over two years later, Mekel would win the first of two Israel League MVP awards. By the summer of 2013, Mekel was receiving offers of interest from NBA clubs. The Dallas Mavericks signed him to a deal after Mekel supposedly impressed during workouts, and the 25-year-old guard continued to gain supporters after a strong Summer League stretch where his size, instincts, and fundamentally sound game seemed like a strong fit for Rick Carlisle and the Mavericks.
Depending on your perspective, it was either providence or supreme misfortune when the preseason began and Mekel suddenly found himself second on the point guard depth chart. Shane Larkin had fractured his foot over the summer, and Devin Harris was still recovering from foot surgery that was going to keep him out and indeterminate amount of time.
Mekel saw the court plenty during the preseason, and for the most part, acquitted himself fairly well. By the start of the regular season, for better or worse, it seemed clear that Mekel was going to get his chance to shine, and at first, he did. In the second game of the season, Mekel played 23 minutes, scored what would be a season-high 11 points, and dished out a half-dozen assists. In the month of November, Mekel would record double-digit minutes nine times.
Unfortunately, over time Mekel's flaws grew more apparent. Opposing teams would sag off on him and let him shoot from outside. Mekel had size but not the quickness to beat defenders or the explosiveness to finish above the rim. His most effective shot was a runner in the lane which he converted often enough, when he managed to get there.
To make matters worse, Mekel seemed to press at times, so while he saw the court well, he forced the action and would get into bouts of turnovers. Mekel finished second among rookies in assist rate but in the bottom third in turnover rate. When Shane Larkin returned from injury in late November, Rick Carlisle moved Mekel further down the bench in preference of the team's first round selection.
In mid-January, it was discovered that Mekel would need surgery to repair a meniscus tear, and would miss several weeks. He saw the floor only once again the rest of the season.
2013-14 grade: D+
Contract: $1.7 million through 2015-16
In truth, Gal Mekel probably should never have been put in this position. The Mavericks signed four guards in free agency, and drafted another two in June. That an undrafted rookie free agent from the Israeli League would be exposed this much was more a product of attrition than design.
Of course, that doesn't fully excuse him. Dallas signed Mekel to a multi-year deal, then sent a similar prospect in Nick Calathes to Memphis, where Calathes enjoyed a very promising rookie season. I will admit that I've been an admirer of Calathes for some time, but objectively this decision appears to have been a major misstep. Calathes was younger, played in a more competitive league overseas and was a standout college player who was considered at one point a first round talent. Dallas kept Calathes' rights for years, seemingly waiting for the right moment to bring him to Dallas, only to trade him for next to nothing in favor of an inferior prospect.
What's done is done, however, which leaves Dallas to try and salvage Mekel's career. It would be dishonest of me to suggest I did not see a useful player in the Summer League, and I talked to a couple of talent evaluators in Las Vegas who were eager to praise Gal. His size and decision making at the point guard position seemed like excellent counterpoints to the former Maverick point guard corps of Collison, Fisher and James.
Unfortunately, Mekel's weaknesses are all too apparent. His lack of a jumpshot (a push-shot that looks unnatural and requires time for him to load up for), his tendency to drive into lane and into certain doom, as well his lack of lateral defensive agility, all make the outlook for Mekel grim. Some improvement can be expected, especially with the turnovers, as Mekel adjusts to the speed of the NBA game. But having just turned 26, it's unlikely that Mekel has much upside.
Mekel is signed to a guaranteed deal, but his salary is such that waving him could certainly be an option, as well as make him a cheap throw-in for a trade. With three other point guards all presumably ahead of Mekel on the roster(assuming Devin Harris is re-signed), Gal's place on the team is hardly assured.
This was a nice piece detailing Mekel's journey to the NBA and his recovery from injury. It's important to remember that these players are human beings, and by most accounts Gal Mekel is a pretty good dude. Even if I "grade" him rather harshly, I would love nothing more than to see Gal succeed, preferably in a Maverick uniform. Whatever his future may hold, I wish him the best.