At points last night, it seemed like only Caris LeVert and Nik Stauskas were playing at the top of their games. The two Michigan alumni, reunited as a result of the Nets trade with Philadelphia earlier this month, put up 22 and 21 points off the bench and shot a blistering 10-of-16 from three. Despite the blowout, LeVert was a +12; Stauskas a +3.
Roommates and teammates during their days at Michigan, they’ve become the silver lining —along with fast developing Jarrett Allen— during a frustrating monththat now leaves the Nets 4-10 for December and losers of three straight.
LeVert is averaging 14.4 points in December, shooting 50.1 percent overall and 44.9 percent from three. Since he joined the Nets —seven games, Staukas is averaging 10.1 points shooting 48.9 overall and 57.6 (not a typo) from three. If he makes his next two 3-pointers, he’ll be at 60 percent from deep in a Brooklyn uniform!
Stauskas arrived with Jahlil Okafor from Philly. He was excited right from the start, despite being the forgotten man in the trade with all the Okafor talk and the surprise inclusion of a 2019 pick. He fit the script as a young player with upside, particularly as a 3-point specialist in Kenny Atkinson’s offense.
Obviously those numbers should return to the mean, but he’s proving his stripes in a guard and wing heavy team. Still, the offense is made for him.
“Here, there’s a lot more movement in our offense, and there’s a lot more freedom,” hs said recently. “If you notice, a lot of the threes I’ve been shooting are off the dribble in pick-and-roll situations, but I never got to do that in Philly. That’s a strength of mine. When I came here and met with coach [Kenny] Atkinson the first day, my eyes lit up because I started realizing how they played and how well I’d fit in here.”
In his debut, He dropped 22 points and hit a Nets’ franchise record for 3-pointers in a debut with five. Against the Pelicans, he tied another franchise mark: most 3-pointers off the bench with seven. He’s proven to be a spark off the bench when he receives big minutes.
Most of his time came down the stretch in two blowouts, but he came out ready to play. He scored 20 or more points only five times in 231 games played prior to the trade. He’s done it twice in seven games with the Nets. It’s a good first impression.
And, it comes during a time when the losses are mounting and frustration inevitably is too. Silver linings become harder to see during tough times. But, along with Stauskas, old friend and now teammate again, LeVert, is thriving.
LeVert is a golden child of Brooklyn’s rebuilding process, along with Allen and D’Angelo Russell. He’s homegrown and he’s getting better with more experience. He’s been a better player since Russell went down as his responsibilities grew, backing up Spencer Dinwiddie at the point.
In adding to his improved scoring, LeVert is averaging 4.8 assists, 3.2 rebounds and a steal during December. He’s getting to the rack and creating offense for others when handling the rock in the pick-and-roll.
The big improvement he’s made is beyond the arc. Shooting 45 percent from 3-point range in 45 attempts may be a small sample size but this comes after he shot 27.8 percent from 3-point in October and November (72 attempts).
And for Stauskas and LeVert, it’s two players with chemistry who are buying into the culture.
“This is definitely an organization you’d want to be a part of [long-term],” LeVert told NetsDaily. “Everybody here is great people, first-class people. Not just on the court. Outside of basketball they’re great people and that’s just something that you want to be a part of.”
People in Ann Arbor, home of the blue-and-gold, were excited for him to join LeVert, but mainly they were excited for him to get a fresh start in a positive place like Brooklyn. He told Tom Dowd that Brooklyn is a place he wants to be.
“First class organization,” said Stauskas. “I love it here. I think the thing that I enjoy most is how seriously they take skill development. They’re huge on getting better every day, especially taking care of your body. Over my career I’ve done a pretty good job of taking care of my body, but I think they go above and beyond here before and after practice, making sure you do the little things to keep yourself healthy and mobile.”
What comes next? You’re like to see more of them, with LeVert possibly joining the starting lineup. Atkinson once again hinted about change in the starting unit. It will be hard to keep Stauskas limited to blowouts and short spurts off the bench. They also have a decision to make before June 29. They can give him a $5.1 million qualifying offer and make him a restricted free agent.
So, the Michigan classmates, roommates and teammates are back and playing well in the system and in Brooklyn. They were successful at Michigan, getting to the NCAA Finals. Their teammates included Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III and Trey Burke. Maybe they’ll be touched by magic again.