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Caris LeVert showing that even when the shots don’t fall, he’s got value

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Caris LeVert is struggling offensively. It may or may not be the beginnings of a sophomore slump, but there’s no doubt that he hasn’t quite been himself yet this season ... at least on offense.

But as Monday night proved, those offensive numbers don’t tell the whole story. No doubt, they’re disappointing and Kenny Atkinson sat him in favor of Allen Crabbe. Through 10 games, LeVert is shooting 36-for-107 (33.6 percent) from the field and 9-of-43 (20.9 percent) from deep. Including the Nets’ win over the Suns, LeVert has only shot over 36 percent twice this season, and has only made 13-of-47 from the field over his last five. He finished with only four points Monday.

But that’s only one side of the story, one side of the court. LeVert recorded five steals on Monday night and more importantly, with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson out with a hip contusion after halftime, he held Devin Booker to 18 points. Booker got so frustrated he fouled out with two and a half minutes left. That’s a quality effort no matter which way you cut it.

With a young player like LeVert struggling, it’s reasonable to think he’s forcing things. But it’s not bothering his coach that much, not with the defensive effort he’s putting out.

“He’s a young player trying to figure out who he is,” Kenny Atkinson said befor the Suns game. “In terms of his effort and his energy, we like that. We like his defense. I talk about [the team] being out of rhythm offensively; he suffers a little if we’re not in rhythm.”

LeVert developed a reputation for being a formidable and versatile defender last season, made evident by Atkinson decision to trust the then-rookie to guard LeBron James for a sizable chunk of minutes last January.

So what do we make of this?

Through 10 games this season, CL Smooth sits at 9.7 points per game in 27.6 minutes per contest. Not that bad, but his jump shot, at times, still looks rushed, like in NBA 2K where you tap the square button quickly and instead of pump faking, you release.

So, LeVert’s offense has yet to come along. Last season he was far more efficient, ending the year at 8.2 points on 45 percent field goal shooting and 32 percent from three-point land over 21 minutes per contest.

Defensively, though, his improvement is quite evident from an eye test to his statistics. His steals have gone up to 1.5 thefts per contest, from less than one last season and he relishes taking on the challenge of guarding the big scorer. There’s a willingness to get stops and remain active on that end, whether the shots are falling or not.

He’s not worried, that much, about where things stand.

“Everybody goes through something like this. It’s a little frustrating, but you’ve got to look at the next game,” he said Monday. “I don’t think I’ve had a lot of easy shots to get myself going. But we’ll be better.”

But as he continues to refine his game and work extensively on the jump shot, it’s also worth noting that, normally, good things -- like foul calls -- happen when LeVert attacks.

Against the Suns, that was not the case. LeVert drew contact from Alex Len on multiple occasions after some nifty ball handling from the perimeter, and managed to get a decent look at the rim, drawing contact, but didn’t get the call.

LeVert, normally mild-mannered, appeared a tad bit frustrated with the lack of results.

He is getting to the foul line more this year, almost twice as often (2.7 free throw attempts to 1.6) when compared to his rookie campaign, but is only hitting 66.7 percent at the charity stripe, compared to 72 percent last season.

It’s only November; early November at that. It isn’t panic time … at all, and we are still seeing good things from LeVert like his effort, increased activity on both ends and his defense. It just hasn’t quite translated into efficient or ideal offensive numbers as the Michigan Man expected to take the second-year leap.

But as he says, “we’ll get better.”