Caris LeVert
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Caris LeVert has been the early story of the Brooklyn Nets season. The third-year player has turned heads while breaking out in a vaulted starting role.

Two-hundred and thirty-eight.

Two-hundred and thirty-eight high-school basketball players were ranked ahead of Caris LeVert in the 2012 college recruitment rankings. Some of the players ranked higher than LeVert included Brett Boese, Quenton DeCosey, Blaise Mbargorba (?), Reggie Dillard (??), and Laimonas Chatkevicius (???). In fact, to find the next-closest current NBA player on the list, you’d have to look a full fifty-one spots ahead of Caris LeVert. (That player being fundamentals connoisseur, Taurean Prince).

Caris LeVert’s meteoric rise to stardom has been the story of the 2019 Brooklyn Nets, as he’s already become the number one option on the team.

Prior to these first five games, the face of this young Nets team was D’Angelo Russell and his frozen veins. For the second consecutive season, fans and analysts alike were pointing to this being D-Lo’s breakout year. Some even went as far as listing him as a stealth Most Improved Player candidate.


At times, Russell has lived up to his pre-season hype as a budding star. Against the undefeated New Orleans Pelicans, Russell dropped a team-high 24 points, with an earth-scorching 6-of-9 shooting performance from three.

Even with a near-unconscious night from the field, Russell’s 24 points did not represent the season-high for the Nets. That honor belongs to none other than Caris LeVert.

Last Friday, Caris LeVert captured the national media’s attention by putting up a career-high 28 points against the Nets’ crosstown rival, the New York Knicks. In the highly touted “Battle of the Boroughs,” Caris LeVert was the story of the game, dropping in a huge game-winning bucket against his former college teammate, Tim Hardaway Jr.

For forty-eight minutes, Caris LeVert was the best player on the court at the Barclays Center, showcasing complete control of the game.

However, as impressive as LeVert has been this season, things haven’t always come so easy for the 24-year-old pro.

Ranked as a three-star prospect out of high-school, LeVert quietly committed to the University of Michigan after receiving very few offers from college programs. His Michigan career was, frankly, a mixed bag. After barely playing during his Freshman season, LeVert began to steadily improve, dropping a career-high 32 points during his Junior year. While LeVert showed signs of becoming a go-to scorer, his college career was, sadly, marred with injuries.

LeVert spent the majority of his final two seasons at Michigan sidelined with knee and foot injuries. As a result, Caris LeVert entered the 2016 NBA Draft as a projected second-round pick. The lower-body injuries that LeVert had sustained throughout his college career hurt his draft stock … so much so that he wrote a letter to all 30 NBA General Managers and implored them to select him.

The Indiana Pacers took the bait and used their 20th overall pick to select Caris LeVert in the 2016 NBA Draft. Drafting a player as injury-riddled as LeVert in the first round was certainly an eyebrow-raising decision. Many feared that the former Wolverine would never step on an NBA court. Within a month of his selection, the Indiana Pacers shipped LeVert off to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Thaddeus Young. (At that time, Young joined the Pacers as his fourth team in five years. He was a bonafide NBA journeyman).

LeVert’s first two seasons in the league can quickly be summarized as good, but not great. Much like his Michigan days, LeVert showed flashes of stardom on some nights. As a whole, however, he struggled with efficiency and shot only 43% from the field in the 2017-2018 season.

LeVert spent the 2018 off-season being thrust into Jimmy Butler trade-rumors. Interestingly, the Brooklyn Nets chose to withhold him from trades involving Butler, a multi-time All-Star. To many, it was a shocker that the Nets valued LeVert so highly.

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Looking at this season, however, it’s easy to see why the Brooklyn Nets chose to hang on to him.

Based on what we have seen so far, Caris LeVert appears to have worked on his ball-handling and seems to have a quicker first step. As a result, LeVert has taken the first two weeks of the 2018-2019 season by storm.

He has posted averages of 21 points, five rebounds, and four assists on a very tidy 52 percentage field-goal percentage. Improving his ball-handling has only improved his herky-jerky game, and it has allowed him to ascend to unforeseen heights. Take a look at the way he stretches and maneuvers his body around defenders in these three possessions against the Detroit Pistons. This is DeMar DeRozan-level stuff!

Caris LeVert’s most unique skill is his court awareness. He seemingly has eyes on the back of his head, as he is always aware of his defender’s location, even if he can’t directly see them. His innate awareness of the defense makes him a deadly player out of the pick-and-roll. Take a look at this possession against the New Orleans Pelicans.

 

While being guarded by Jrue Holiday, a 2018 NBA All-Defensive First Teamer, LeVert is able to use his hesitation game to get Holiday on his backside. LeVert’s ability to use his body as a barricade against Holiday results in a wide-open floater, which LeVert swishes easily.

Jrue Holiday wasn’t the only All-Defensive First Team player who was put in a Caris LeVert spin-cycle. Watch him do equally devastating things to Victor Oladipo and the Indiana Pacers’ sixth-ranked defense.

 

With only five seconds left on the shot clock, LeVert is forced to isolate against the Pacers’ All-Star guard, Victor Oladipo. LeVert drives right, crosses over, and then picks up his dribble with about seven feet between him and the hoop. Normally, this type of possession would be swallowed up whole by Oladipo, who is (arguably) the best perimeter defender in the league.

LeVert, however, uses his fancy footwork to ball-fake Oladipo out of his shoes. LeVert then pivots, spins, and uses his lengthy 6’10” wingspan to lunge toward the hoop for a layup. This is incredibly impressive stuff, given Oladipo’s defensive pedigree.

LeVert has gotten so comfortable with handling the ball that he even uncorked a Rajon Rondo-esque ball-fake against the Pelicans last night.

 

See ya later, Julius Randle!

With a treasure chest full of moves and creative finishes, LeVert is already one of the shiftiest players in the entire league. With nifty crossovers, neck-breaking head fakes, high-arching floaters, and ambidextrous finishes around the rim, LeVert is a menace inside the paint.

Although it’s a small sample, inside 8-feet, LeVert has put up the 7th-best shooting percentage in the entire league at an impressive 65.1%. For reference, this is a better shooting percentage from this range than players like Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, and Stephen Curry; all of whom are known for their abilities to finish inside.

To dive even deeper into his scoring, 11.9 of his 21 points per games comes from drives according to NBA.com’s tracking data. His 62.9 percent shooting percentage is the best of any player in the league with a high volume of drive-related scoring (minimum seven points per game off drives). Some of the names LeVert shoots better than on drives includes Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan; all of whom are well-known for getting to the cup with ease.

As if this isn’t impressive enough, many of these shots are heavily contested as well. According to NBA.com, 40.6 percent of LeVert’s shots occur with a defender 2-4 feet away. The tight defense clearly doesn’t phase LeVert, however, as he shoots as strong 53.6 percent from the field in this situation.

The last thing that LeVert has added to his offensive repertoire is the ability to finish through contact. LeVert is averaging 5.6 free throws per game, which doubles the 2.6 free-throw average that he put up during the 2017-2018 season.

Defensively, LeVert is very solid, as his excellent court awareness allows him to sniff out plays before they happen.

 

Notice how he instinctively jumps the passing lane and stops a wide-open Oladipo three. He then lunges out of bounds to keep the ball in play, which in turn, sets up a wide-open transition three from Spencer Dinwiddie.

Here’s LeVert doing similar things during the 102-86 blowout victory against the defending Eastern Conference champion, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

 

Notice how, again, LeVert is able to read the offense before it fully develops. He uses his long arms to pick-off Kevin Love’s outlet pass at mid-court. LeVert’s hustle stands out as he keeps the ball in play, resulting in a Jarrett Allen and-one layup. This is by no means an easy play! Love is well-renowned for his ability to catch defenders out of position in transition. If we were looking at K-Love’s basketball resume, we would probably see “outlet passing” as one of his top-three best skills.

Caris LeVert does have some areas to improve upon. He’s still a streaky shooter at best from the three-point line. He has posted a desolate 27.8 percent shooting percentage from three so far this season. Luckily for LeVert, he doesn’t take them very often—only 26.1 percent of his total shots come from three according to NBA.com.

His shooting form has too much movement, and his release point seems a little low. LeVert appears to have adopted the bad habit of “loading up” his shot, rather than simply letting it fly. As a result, his shot is highly inconsistent, as seen in the back-to-back bricked threes against the Pelicans.

 

This type of problem is fixable, and LeVert has the basis for a good three-point shot. It will take a great deal of film and countless reps to improve that shooting stroke. However, if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Caris LeVert, it’s that he’s gym-rat who is always looking to improve upon his game. At some point in his career, LeVert will shoot above the league-average from three. His grit and work ethic has gotten him this far, and there’s no reason for his improvement to come to a halt.

It’s been five years since a Brooklyn Nets player has made the All-Star team. The last to do so was Brook Lopez, who made the 2013 All-Star team as a reserve. Mark my words when I say this…

The next player to represent the Brooklyn Nets in the All-Star game will be Caris Coleman LeVert.

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