Caris LeVert, Shooting Guard/Small Forward
2016-17: 21.7 MPG, 8.2 PPG, .450 FG%, .321 3P%, 3.3 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.9 SPG, 57 G
Who is Caris LeVert?
Caris LeVert, one half of the “swing brothers,” was selected by the Indiana Pacers with the No. 20 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. The following day, the Brooklyn Nets acquired him from the Pacers for Thaddeus Young. The team may have finished dead last in the NBA last season with only 20 wins, but LeVert was one of the few bright spots.
Known for his versatility, LeVert played four seasons at the University of Michigan before entering the draft. While he suffered multiple foot injuries throughout his college career, his potential was still recognizable through his average of 10.4 points per game on 40.1 percent (!!) shooting from behind the arc. In fact, even though he put his name in the draft while still rehabilitating from those injuries, teams were expected to be drawn to the Michigan Wolverine for his incredible 6-foot-7 height and 7-foot wingspan, along with his “jack of all trades”-esque skills.
Last August, The Ringer‘s Kevin O’Connor wrote that LeVert could even be the “steal of the draft” if he can stay healthy. That remains to be seen with LeVert entering his sophomore season, but he has further garnered attention from other NBA pundits who recognize this stud could really be something special.
The Michigan product missed the first 20 games of his rookie season while still recovering from foot surgery. His highly-anticipated Nets debut finally came on Dec. 7, but he didn’t score his first NBA basket until the following game. (I thought I would punch a wall every time I heard “soon” in regards to when LeVert would return to the hardwood.) Right off the bat, however, the rookie showed his wide range of facets. While coming up scoreless in his debut in a black-and-white uniform, he posted four rebounds and three steals in just nine minutes of action. His offensive abilities weren’t felt significantly until much later into the season, but LeVert was providing for the team in a variety of categories, from playmaking to grabbing boards and using his quick hands for steals. Fans immediately called for more minutes for the young wing, and the Nets slowly eased him into the starting small forward spot.
Of course, as many rookies struggle in their first year in the NBA, LeVert’s performance in his rookie campaign was not any different. He went through a series of dry spells early into the season, shooting just 29.8 percent from downtown in 33 games (until March hit). The Nets still opted to give him more minutes though, and he appeared to be settling into a groove in March, which coincidentally was also the time of the Nets’ “March Mania.” In his last 24 games of the season, LeVert shot 35 percent from behind the arc, which is still a drastic decrease from his 40.1 percent clip in Michigan but a tad better than his 32.1 percent season average.
One popular statistic from LeVert’s rookie season: He ranked among the top 10 rookies in all of the following categories: points, rebounds and steals per game. Talk about getting the most from a first-round gamble, eh? (KOC, can we call him the “steal of the draft” yet?)
What does he bring to the table?
Ideally, LeVert brings a fully healthy body and the ability to continue building on his game from last season. With the Nets’ emphasis on three-point shooting not dying down anytime soon, it would also be phenomenal if LeVert could shoot closer to his 40.1 percent clip from his Michigan days.
LeVert already missed the Nets’ first two preseason games with a sprained right ankle but participated in game three, putting up 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting in 18 minutes. Luckily, he’s back before the games actually start counting. (Based on how the Nets are performing in preseason though, I’d argue preseason means everything. It feels better that way.)
As for where LeVert falls in the Nets’ rotation, there is a high chance head coach Kenny Atkinson will use LeVert off the bench. It is likely the starting small forward role will go to priciest newcomer Allen Crabbe, but that does not mean LeVert will not get significant playing time. The Nets should still devote this season to player development, and LeVert should be a priority on that end. Plus, with LeVert leading the reserves unit, it is exciting to think about how much firepower the Nets finally have coming off the bench.
Former Net Wayne Ellington had no chance against LeVert on this crossover…
The Bottom Line
LeVert’s an easy candidate for a “breakout player” on the Nets this season. As I mentioned on Episode 14 of the Brooklyn Revolution Podcast, if he can stay healthy for a full season and performs spectacularly heading into February, he might even have a good shot at earning a spot in NBA All-Star Weekend’s Rising Stars Challenge. (Last year, some people told me about their eagerness to see LeVert participate in the Slam Dunk Contest, so I’d be curious to see that as well.) This Nets team is extremely young and packed with rising stars and LeVert is at the forefront of this youth movement.
The Brooklyn Game Player Previews: