Now that the shine has rubbed off of what was a surprisingly great start to the Nets season—the club currently stands at 4-12—it is time to focus on what this season was supposed to be about: developing a nucleus that can succeed in the future. This season wasn’t supposed to be focused on about wins (as great as they are) but rather the 2016-2017 season was supposed to weed out the nomadic players the Nets have acquired and maintain the one’s that are going to prove worthwhile in a few years when they are prepared to contend again.
This was the clear theme of the season dating back to Draft Night 2016, when the Nets traded their second most talented player in Thaddeus Young for the No. 20 pick in the Draft. It was unknown who the newly minted General Manager Sean Marks was going after, but following the pick of Caris LeVert out of Michigan, it began to make sense.
A season ending left leg injury stopped what was a very impressive senior campaign in Ann Arbor for LeVert, in which he averaged 16 points and nearly five assists (LeVert broke his left foot during his junior season, also season ending). LeVert is a combo guard with a nice handle at 6’7” that can do a little bit of everything. The plan was never for LeVert to come in and make an impact on day one (he wasn’t going to be ready), but it was for the Nets to take a lottery prospect that fell due to his injury. Marks may have taken the chance because the doctor who performed the surgery on LeVert’s foot, Dr. Martin O’Malley, is the Nets foot and ankle specialist.
LeVert should be ready sometime soon, and there is no telling how immediate his impact will be, but there is no denying that Kenny Atkinson will ease him along and use this season as a foundation for what should be a productive career. Let’s take a look at LeVert’s game.
LeVert’s size and ability to do everything on offense, whether it be hit a jumper off the catch or fire a pocket pass, gives the Nets a lot to work with in the 22-year-old. LeVert will likely see minutes at point guard early on to see if he can be comfortable commanding the position for the future and the fit may work. LeVert is able to make passes that other guards can not due to his ability to see over his defender. Think of James Harden and his ability to thread the needle on some passes: a main reason why is because he has great size which opens the floor up for him to find his teammates in otherwise blinded spots (this isn’t a knock on Harden’s talent). LeVert’s size and bounce gives him the ability to pull up and hit jumpers as well as catch and shoot. LeVert was a great shooter in college, hitting on 45% of his three-point shots as a senior on more than four attempts per game. Take a look at that stroke.
His vision is great for a player of his size and his unselfishness is a positive sign for things to come. If he is able to get into the teeth of the defense, look for dump offs to Brook Lopez early and often in his career with the Nets. As noted before, his unique combination of size and passing ability gives him a skillset that not many players have.
The Ohio native needs to work on his off the dribble shot which will be huge for his development, but his handle is strong enough that he was able to get to the rim fairly easy in college. LeVert loves his crossover and it is effective, but if he can add a pull up jumper into his arsenal he has a complete offensive skill set that can work in the NBA. Watch LeVert catch the ball and explode right to the rim in the below clip.
Illinois didn’t present the most difficult defense on the play, but LeVert has a quick enough first step to blow by his defender and finish. In the NBA he may not be able to get there that easily so he is going to need to put on some weight in order to take the contact he will face in the paint.
On defense, LeVert is a high motor player that shows good mechanics but will never be a lockdown player at the next level. He is very skinny weighing under 200 pounds so defending point guards may work better for him considering he does have a 6’10” wingspan. Guarding a smaller defender may be for the best so his length factors in more and a point guard won’t bully him down into the post.
As for where LeVert fits in the rotation, there will be a spot in the backcourt for him. With Brooklyn’s weak point guard crops, especially with Jeremy Lin still out, LeVert will likely take what was Sean Kilpatrick’s role as a point guard in spot minutes. Yogi Ferrell and Isaiah Whitehead have performed admirably in Lin’s absence, but expect LeVert to take some minutes away from the fellow rookies. With the Nets glut of wings in Kilpatrick, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Harris and Randy Foye, LeVert will be eased into the role of a wing with more of a focus at point guard, it seems. With his development being of the utmost importance, expect Atkinson to keep a tight leash on LeVert and monitor him carefully.
There is no denying LeVert’s potential in the NBA—if he remains healthy—as he has the tools to succeed. His jump shot is pretty, he can slash to the rim off the bounce, and he has the motor to improve. With a team that’s main focus this season is to develop talent, LeVert is in the best place he can be to maximize his potential. Once he sees the floor, Atkinson, is going to put him in a position to learn from the basics and get acquainted with the pro game.
It will not happen overnight, and many may not see it right away, but Caris LeVert is the Nets first piece to the foundation of their new roster.