That right there is glimpse of why Caris LeVert is the man-in-demand among fans in Brooklyn.
Normally, a 20th overall draft pick doesn’t instantly symbolize faith, unless you have no other choice, but in this case, the typical Brooklyn Net fan has decided that LeVert has earned that faith. It’s early, we all know, but LeVert owns it, wears it, and doesn’t really sweat it.
“I don’t feel any pressure from that,” LeVert said in an exclusive interview with NetsDaily, exuding a calm confidence. “It’s really fun for me honestly to have the city behind me like that, wanting me to get better and wanting to see my development, along with that other young guys. It feels good to have that support, I’m trying to embrace that and get better from it.”
Net fans will tell you that LeVert appears to be worth the wait. Hell, they want to see more of him.
Just look at these tweets from NothinButNets, as well as our man, Pooch, from about two weeks ago, when LeVert was inserted into the Nets starting line-up for the first time.
Nets fans when they heard that Caris LeVert would be starting pic.twitter.com/eHXOlGOThu— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) February 4, 2017
CARIS LEVERT IS STARTING, IT'S A CARISMAS MIRACLE— Nothin' But Nets (@NetsBlogFS) February 3, 2017
Since then, Atkinson has yet to revert to LeVert (in the starting line-up), though he still gets a substantial amount of minutes.
After playing sparingly in his first few games, LeVert exploded for a career-best 19 points in a nearly heroic effort against the Cleveland Cavaliers, which the Nets lost by eight at home on January 6.
Since and including that encounter — which saw him guard LeBron James and Kyrie Irving at different points — LeVert has posted averages of 9.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.1 steals in 24.5 minutes while shooting 46.7% from the floor and 74.3% on free throws through 16 games prior to February 13.
In the last two games before All-Star Weekend, LeVert struggled against Memphis and Milwaukee, but he is a rookie after all, and his confidence has not been shaken, not one bit.
“I knew that I would have a great opportunity to play once I got healthy for sure,” he said. “I was always confident in my game. I knew that that it would translate to this level, so it was just a matter of me being confident in myself, and I’m a confident kid.”
Net fans are drawn in by the athleticism, among other traits; 6’10” wingspan, 8’5” standing reach and stay for the quickness, agility and defensive ability. Some of that came from LeVert’s varied athletic background, which includes tennis and football, that latter of which he actually favored more than his current trade at one point.
“Basketball was my first sport but it wasn’t always my favorite – and my mom actually made me play tennis in fifth and sixth grade,” he said with a chuckle. “I was okay (at tennis), I didn’t really like it that much, but football was my favorite sport, up until ninth grade. I stopped because I started getting taller while everyone else started getting bigger so I just stuck to basketball.”
“When I was younger I actually played running back because I wasn’t tall at all,” The former football star continued. “I had my growth spurt in my junior year of high school, I grew to like 6’3”. Then I grew to like 6’7” in college. Football wasn’t my first love, basketball was definitely my first love, but I started liking football more when I was allowed to play it, and in sixth or seventh grade, I think I liked it more than basketball.”
Other than his growth spurt, which didn’t translate into gaining muscle at the time, LeVert also says a change from running back to wide receiver (in freezing Ohio!) also helped make the decision to stick to basketball, luckily for Brooklyn.
“There was a couple of games in junior high where it was super cold, and in my last year of football I switched to wide receiver, I wasn’t that much involved in the offense, and therefore I did a lot of standing in the cold,” LeVert said with a laugh. “It’s different when you’re out there getting carries like every other play, and it’s another thing where you’re out there standing in the cold, so I thought ‘I don’t know how much longer I could do this?...and it’s real cold in Ohio too – it was brutal. I’m glad I’m a Net now.”
Now, it’s all basketball of course. Maybe not so great basketball.
Atkinson has said repeatedly that, while it fails to show up in final results, he sees improvement with this growing Nets group, and his first round pick is in agreement. LeVert pointed to the team’s competitiveness in recent showings (nine straight single digit losses), and other aspects of their overall game.
“Other people may not see passed the wins and losses but we see it every day in film,” LeVert said. “Whether it’d be something small like transition defense or boxing out, running our offense, spacing. We see it every day. We’re just trying to focus on the positives and continue to get better.”
He remembers specifically the Knicks game, one of his best, but one of the worst losses.
"We played great defense the whole game and that was something we really wanted to do. Teams had been scoring 30 points against us in the first and we held them to 20, so there's definitely some positives to take away from things like that, for sure."
Some fans want LeVert to play all 48 minutes, but the Nets continue to be very patient, very cautious with the man they see as a “core piece.” Minor soreness, he sits. Needs rest, he sits. In the summer, they want to see him get stronger. It’s a long term plan. He says he’s cool with it. The Nets took a chance on him, a long-haul chance. They traded one of their best players for the right to draft him; they picked him when none of the draftniks even had him in the first round because of his injury history. So no rush.
As for his goals for the short-term, the final couple months of this rebuilding year, LeVert kept it simple: “win more games than we have, and continued health.”
All Net fans would agree, trust me.