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Vaughn: Caris LeVert stands out with clear-eyed ‘swagger’

It should come as no surprise, but it’s comforting nonetheless. When asked on Saturday’s Zoom call from Orlando who had stood out so far after three days of practice, Jacque Vaughn told reporters it was Caris LeVert.

“My immediate answer would be Caris LeVert. I think he just has that different swagger about himself,” Vaughn told reporters. “He’s put in work individually on his game during this hiatus. I think you can sense it in the way his shoulders are, in the way he’s carrying himself. He’s eye contact, his leadership, he would be a guy that initially has looked really good.”

And so, said the Nets interim coach, he’s planning on giving the 25-year-old some “freedom,” starting with playing the point as well as other positions. That, of course, is a right reserved for stars and superstars.

“My first approach as a staff is to give him some freedom. I think that’s a process of maturity,” said Vaughn. “Understanding what the defense is, how they’re playing against you. ‘On some nights, I’m going to be a guy to look to score. Some nights, I’m going to be the guy that’s a distributor.’

“So that challenge of giving him a lot of freedom, and we talked about doing simple better. That line of thinking will allow him to, as players say, ‘get into his bag a bit,’ and showcase more than he’s done in the past.”

With so many players sick or hurt or in quarantine, you’d expect the third-year pro to get the nod from Vaughn. And for those with memories stretching back to March, you’ll recall he wore the star mantle well, with a 51-point performance and a triple-double in the course of four days, the Nets best stretch of the season. In the week before the NBA shut down, as any serious Nets fan can repeat, LeVert averaged 27.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.0 assists while boasting a shooting split of 50/41/70. The Nets of course won four of five games that week, including road wins in Boston and L.A.

During the off-season, LeVert has noticeably bulked up, braided his hair and become more serious. As he noted, he participated in “four or five” Black Live Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd.

In a video posted by the Nets, he spoke of what things have been like for him and his teammates in the “bubble,” which he described as a “cool new experience.” He admitted that it has been a “little jittery.”

But there’s also been some fun moments like when he challenged Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot to a bet...

In general terms, Vaughn said he’s been preparing his players for (more-or-less) position-less basketball. He has to. The Nets roster doesn’t break down easily. There are more guards than bigs and swingmen will wind up doing both jobs.

“My challenge to the guys today was be able to play, teach and understand, more than just your position,” Vaughn said.

“The combo at the 1, 2 and the 3, 4, you were trying to figure out how to slot guys, and I think it’s more in line of the versatility to play different lineups and put guys in different positions on the floor and challenge the defense. So we’ll try and take advantage of that combo.’’

Vaughn also gave an update on who’s where. There’s “nothing new” on the reported agreement between the team and Justin Anderson who will presumably fill the last of four substitute spots. The three players signed already — Jamal Crawford, Michael Beasley and Donta Hall— are still in their six-day quarantine and Tyler Johnson, who was excused from traveling on the team plane is “enroute,” Vaughn said. TJ will have to get tested and go into quarantine before he can take the court.

The Nets have their first scrimmage, against the Pelicans, 10 days from Sunday. Everyone should be ready by then. Also, a Nets insider says that Beasley, who must miss the first five of the eight “seeding” games to satisfy a drug suspension, will be permitted to scrimmage.

Meanwhile, Chris Chiozza gave his endorsement to Hall, who he played against both in the SEC when Chiozza was with Florida and Hall with Alabama, and the G League this year.

“He’s so athletic, a great defender, rim protector and rebounder,” Chiozza told reporters. “His athleticism is off the charts. He has stuff you can’t teach. He has a great motor, and he has skills people don’t really know about. He can playmake a little bit. But his athleticism will be huge for us and his energy.”

Chiozza compared Hall’s athleticism and skills to that of the player he’ll back up, Jarrett Allen.

The Nets back-up point guard also showed off his “good feet” (for reasons unexplained) in a Nets video...

Hey, it’s the bubble!

Both Chiozza and Rodions Kurucs told the reporters that they’re looking forward to meeting and getting tips from Crawford.

“I’m actually super-excited because he’s the greatest sixth man of the NBA,’’ Kurucs told reporters. “I’m definitely excited to share some experience with him, and he will share some experience with me.’’

“He’s a veteran who has been in this league for as long as I can remember,’’ Chiozza added. “Of course, I’m going to try to pick his brain as much as I can, basketball-related stuff, off the court, anything I can learn from him if I can better myself. I’ve heard he’s a really good mentor and a great guy. I’m looking forward to meeting him and having a conversation and just learn as much as I can in this time we’ve got together.”

Kurucs was two years old, Chiozza four when Crawford debuted back in 2000.

The Latvian product also said he liked the Nets addition of Beasley, with whom he’ll share the 4 and maybe the 3 as well. Beasley, he said, was one of his favorite players, recalling how he played well for the Knicks two years ago.