After missing the first 20 games of the season, Caris LeVert has made the wait worthwhile for the Brooklyn Nets.
This year, Joel Embiid and Malcolm Brogdon were the only two first-year players who consistently made me check for their names in the box score. Now that Caris LeVert is finally healthy, he’s showing steady improvement and is one of the few bright spots for Brooklyn.
The deal that exchanged Thaddeus Young for the rights to Indiana’s 20th pick looks great now, and LeVert is finally returning to his do-it-all form that made him a hot commodity at Michigan.
His versatility gives Kenny Atkinson a reason to throw him to the wolves. LeVert’s one of 12 rookies getting more than 18 minutes a night, and the way the Nets constructed their roster gives him free reign to do almost whatever he wants.
Brooklyn’s roster composition is also a reason why they’re just 8-33, and their league-worst record has resulted in 16 different starting lineups. All of them are for experimentation, but none have included LeVert, and it’s time for Atkinson to consider it.
First off, his numbers are decent, but his last seven games have been much more impressive than the first 14. Brooklyn is winless over that stretch — but keep an open mind.
LeVert’s registered four games with double-digit points, including a career-high 19 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He’s shot efficiently and sits at 49.1 percent for those games, but his shot creation for others has been better than expected.
What LeVert lacks on the perimeter he makes up for in slashing. In his 19-point explosion against Cleveland, he shot 7-of-12 from the field, and all five of his misses came from three — yes, he was a perfect 7-of-7 on twos.
At 6-7 with good ball skills, LeVert can put the ball on the deck when he so chooses. The only issue is that he doesn’t do it that often, but he’s exceptional finishing around the basket. According to NBA.com, there have been 25 shot attempts inside the restricted area for LeVert. He’s converted on 18 of them, giving him a 72 percent clip from that spot and also putting him above all other first-year players.
On the play above, he takes Dennis Schroder — a point guard — off the dribble, uses a high gather to evade Taurean Prince’s swipe attempt and can hang in the air and wriggle around Mike Muscala because he’s a nice athlete with great length.
The sample size is small, but it’s encouraging.
What isn’t encouraging is how LeVert routinely settles for threes he shouldn’t be shooting. According to Basketball-Reference.com, 59 percent of his shots are from beyond the arc, and he’s much, much worse on the perimeter.
In my observation, the reason he’s such a poor shooter is that he doesn’t consistently hold his follow-through. The closing motion is just as important as everything before it. There are very few players who can get away with that on a regular basis, and LeVert’s misses are way worse when he doesn’t hold it compared to when he does.
Putting him out on the floor for tipoff immediately gives the Nets a playmaker who can help set the tone offensively. The last two games have featured Bojan Bogdanovic and Spencer Dinwiddie in the backcourt, and it hasn’t worked. Bogie didn’t play well against the Houston Rockets (eight points, minus-29) and wasn’t much better against the Toronto Raptors (11 points, minus-22). Dinwiddie was a bit better with his plus/minus.
LeVert was better than both of them and posted plus-seven in both games. Overall, per 100 possessions, the rookie has posted a net rating of plus-10.5 for the season — that’s staggering. Brook Lopez, the Nets’ best player, is plus-4.5, according to Basketball Reference.
If there’s anything I noticed, he leaves a little bit to be desired defensively, but few rookies can transition from college to the NBA without having a hiccup trying to defend one-on-one. The game is much faster, and the guys LeVert is matching up with are more athletic and stronger.
Atkinson should mix-and-match lineups until he’s blue in the face. Maybe run LeVert at the two; if that doesn’t work, try the three. There’s a high probability that he’s going to be in Brooklyn for a long time, and the sooner he acclimated to an increased role, the better.