With all the talent that Caris LeVert brings to the Brooklyn Nets, his clutch factor is one of the most underrated aspects of his game.
To keep it a stack, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who had a better birthday than Caris LeVert. Personally, I enjoy a nice quiet birthday ending with ice cream cake from Carvel. However, I wouldn’t mind having the birthday Caris had.
In the final hours of his 25th birthday, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that the Brooklyn Nets and LeVert had agreed on a three-year $52.5 million extension. Now that’s a way to end a birthday with a much-deserved present.
With the Nets and LeVert agreeing to the extension before the season starts, it shows the Nets envision LeVert to be one of their core pieces for the future. Brooklyn now has LeVert, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Spencer Dinwiddie, and DeAndre Jordan signed up for the next three years. Not to mention, they have a few more years left with Rodions Kurucs.
LeVert is a special talent that hasn’t fully blossomed yet. Injuries have somewhat defined his career so far, but when healthy, LeVert has shown All-Star level talent. Before he went down with that gruesome leg injury last year, he was having a season fitting of someone on the cusp of breaking out. Rather than drilling into why LeVert is the kind of player who could be a future All-Star, let’s focus on one particular aspect of his game—his ability to close games.
With the amount of talent on the Nets, head coach Kenny Atkinson should have a field day drawing up late-game plays. With Durant likely to miss all, if not most of this upcoming season, it’s assumed Irving or Dinwiddie will be the go-to guys down the stretch. Joe Harris may even be an option if the team needs a late three.
However, don’t forget about Caris. Before LeVert’s injury, he was one of the team’s go-to players in crunch time. Two examples, in particular, last season make the case for LeVert as a late-game option.
The first example comes from the very beginning of the season. It was the team’s second game and a packed Barclays Center saw the Nets taking on their crosstown rivals—the New York Knicks. The game was full of momentum shifts and the tension in the building swelled as the game reached its final minutes. The Knicks had gone on a run and tied the game with under two minutes remaining. Despite the Knicks’ run, it was LeVert time.
LeVert received a pass from Jared Dudley on the left wing. He dribbled around a Jarrett Allen screen and upon seeing Tim Hardaway Jr. lackadaisically fight over the Allen screen, LeVert stepped back and buried a three over the outstretched arms of Hardaway.
Although no one would call LeVert a three-point sharpshooter, he’s capable of knocking down his open looks from deep. He’s a career 32% shooter from beyond the arc on 3.5 attempts per game. Not eye-popping but still decent enough that defenders should respect it.
LeVert would go on to score the Nets final seven points of the game including the game-winner which came in the final seconds. This particular play is the main reason why LeVert is a solid option for late-game situations.
LeVert isolates at the top of the key against Hardaway Jr. He dances at the top for a bit before hitting the defender with what has become his patented crossover. LeVert then drives the lane and finishes strong over his defender. He then flexes toward the crowd which is the universal sign of “Get ya weight up boy.”
If you re-watch that clip you see the strength and body control that LeVert exhibits. He not only absorbs contact but also has the wherewithal to sense Kevin Knox coming over to help and get the ball up high off the glass. And even if the shot doesn’t go in, he gives his teammates a chance at securing the rebound. He’s stronger than he looks and isn’t one to shy away from contact at the rim.
What makes him a great isolation player, especially in crunch time, is his first step. LeVert’s first step is one of the quickest in the league. And if you don’t believe me, just ask his newest teammate Taurean Prince who tweeted out that same sentiment.
— Forever Humble (@taureanprince) August 25, 2019
To give some more context to his killer crossover, I found one of my personal favorite clips of LeVert from two seasons ago in 2017.
Skipping ahead to a few weeks after the win over the Knicks, the Nets found themselves in yet another dog fight. This time, the Nets faced the Denver Nuggets and yet again, LeVert found himself making big plays come crunch time.
With just over a minute left in the game, LeVert converted on a close shot to give the Nets a two-point lead. Seconds later, with the Nets down by two, LeVert found Allen for the game-tying dunk. After a Nikola Jokic turnover, it was once again Caris LeVert takeover time.
On Brooklyn’s final possession, LeVert found himself all the way up by mid-court guarded tightly by Gary Harris with just over eight seconds on the clock. He ripped through to create some space and get back to the middle of the floor before hitting Harris with a hesitation move.
Harris reached and LeVert hit that patented crossover and gained a step on the defender. Instead of driving to the basket, LeVert threw up a floater that almost scraped the ceiling. Paul Millsap did a solid job helping in the middle, but LeVert wasn’t letting anyone stop him from making the bucket.
Caris has all the tools to be a stellar player in this league. He’s a slashing wing with length but also can hit the occasional three. There’s no doubt his outside shooting will improve, especially with how the Nets coaching staff has developed shooters in the past. Let’s not forget that Brook Lopez’s three-point renaissance began in Brooklyn.
Although it’s not a large sample size, if you look at LeVert’s splits, his field goal percentage is 57.1% in the final three minutes of regulation. It drops slightly to 50% when in the final minute of the game. Needless to say, the Nets weren’t turning to him to make threes in the final seconds. However, within the final five minutes of regulation, Caris is shooting 33% from deep.
His plus-minus also paints a pretty picture in regards to his crunch-time effectiveness. Brooklyn is in the positive (+1.5) with LeVert on the floor with under five minutes left in games.
The sample size isn’t big enough where there is a ton of late-game film on LeVert. That being said, with Durant gone and opposing teams keying on Irving down the stretch, Caris LeVert poses a legitimate threat to opposing defenses. He can make a big shot, but he’s also talented enough to know when to drop the ball off to an open teammate.
In a league full of guys who’d rather hit a step-back buzzer-beater, it’s nice having a change of pace guy on the floor who uses his quickness and length to beat his defender. Don’t be alarmed when you see Atkinson calling LeVert’s number when it’s crunch time in Brooklyn.