At one point Wednesday night, Kenny Atkinson tried a lineup that was as young as it was new: Anthony Bennett at center, Isaiah Whitehead at the point, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson at power forward, Bojan Bogdanovic at shooting guard and Caris LeVert, in his first game, at small forward. Average age, a little under 23.
And for a short while, it worked. Bennett had a monstrous jam on a putback, Hollis-Jefferson grabbing boards and moving in transition and LeVert showing he can play D and motor.
After the game, Atkinson called the lineup “a little bit of the future.” and te star of the youth brigade, at least for patient Nets fans was the 6’7” LeVert. He didn’t score, but he did grab four rebounds and rack up three steals in nine minutes spread over two sessions on the court.
“It’s been so long since I’ve played an actual game,” LeVert said. “It was a great feeling.”
Two weeks short of a year, to be exact. LeVert went down with stress fracture of his left foot on December 30 after a great start to his senior year. He underwent surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in March and was on crutches for his graduation and the PreDraft Combine. After a long rehab, he finally was ready for action this week.
in his first five minutes, he grabbed three of his rebounds and stole the ball three times as the Nets upped their lead from 13 to 20. He did miss his first three shots, but Atkinson was happy.
“I loved his speed out there,” Atkinson said, post-game. “That’s one thing we need more of. He had a lot of pop and energy. I love how hard he plays and his athleticism.”
“He was fantastic,” added Brook Lopez. “You guys haven’t see the work he’s put in. He’s been working for months for that moment. So it was great to see him out there. He brought us great minutes.”
Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel liked what they saw as well.
Atkinson has promised to bring the 22-year-old along slowly and with all the wings available (and for the most part playing well), he’ll have to pick his spots for LeVert.
But LeVert liked that he contributed, if not scored, in his first game as a pro.
“The coaches told me to try to bring some energy on the defensive side of the ball and try to get in the passing lanes a little bit,” LeVert said. “I think we got in transition a little in the first half, and it helped us get the early lead. It’s something we’re definitely going to look forward to.”