Sophomore wall? Not so fast.
All eyes were on Caris LeVert entering the season. He had a promising rookie campaign and sources close to the team told NetsDaily that he, along with Spencer Dinwiddie, “Took the biggest leap” in terms of development this past summer.
He got off to a slow start, averaging 9.9 points, 2.9 assists on 34 percent shooting, 21 percent from deep in the first 10 games. He wasn’t playing bad. He was just struggling to put the ball in the hoop, specifically his three ball which is crucial for a wing in Brooklyn’s offense.
Then, it started to click in November. He started the month shooting 4-of-18 from the field in his first two games, but answered with a strong 13-point night against Denver. Since then, the last 11 games, LeVert has averaged 11.1 points, four rebounds and 3.5 assists on 49 percent shooting, 39 percent from deep.
He’s scored in double figures in seven of the 11 games playing a little less than 25 minutes per game. The Nets are 5-7 when he scores in double figures this season. He looks much more confident, perhaps because the ball is in his hands more as backup point since D’Angelo Russell went down.
“When you have guys out, I think everybody realizes that anybody can contribute. Isaiah we called up from the G League. Caris and Joe are getting more minutes. That’s when a team starts to gain confidence,” head coach Kenny Atkinson said.
It isn’t so much that Russell is out and suddenly everybody is better. It’s that Caris is getting more time – in different positions – and he’s getting more opportunities to prove himself.
Early on, LeVert was getting good looks but couldn’t seem to get his jumper right. That’s changed in large part to his shot selection. In the last 11 games, he’s attempted 45 shots 10-feet or closer and he’s hit 33 of the 45 (73.3 percent). Compare that to shooting 21-of-35 from 10-feet or closer in the first 10.
The significance? Besides his 3-point shot, he’s been more efficient finishing inside the paint. It seemed like he would drive to the hole and avoid contact. He’s been more selective, more poised when he drives against bigger and stronger defenders. He’s a 6-6 guard with long arms and legs. A big part of his success will come inside the paint because you simply cannot teach length ... or quickness for that matter.
Furthermore, he’s taking fewer shots earlier in the shot clock and has been more efficient when he does take them. According to NBA.com, LeVert is 19-of-27 when the shot clock ranges from 18 to 24 seconds. This would mean he’s getting more opportunities in transition – an aspect of his game that he thrives in and the Nets focus on. It correlates with the fast-paced style.
Overall, he’s playing within himself. He knows his strengths and he is getting shots to fall. LeVert was a crucial piece from Day 1, but the flurry injuries in the backcourt and on the wing have only added more to his responsibilities. This might be the best thing for development purposes. He’ll rid some of the growing pains, learn and get better with more time. It’s very simple.
The Nets can only hope that he continues to play the way he has in the last 11 games.