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Two views of Caris LeVert as he enters ‘bubble play’

Caris LeVert isn’t just the last man standing with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince, Nicolas Claxton and Wilson Chandler all unavailable. (Whew!) He’s also the Nets first option because he stepped up big time before the NBA suspended play on March 11.

In the last few weeks of the aborted season, the 25-year-old was on a tear. In the last five games (4-1), he went for 27 points, six rebounds and six assists on a 50/44/70 shooting split. Of course, he also had his first 50 point game and first triple-double within four days of each other. Going back further, as Steve Lichtenstein notes, the numbers are almost as good: a 9-7 record in a 16-game stretch, per-game averages of 24 points, five assists, and five rebounds with a 45/41/80 shooting split including games of 37 and 34 points.

Those are all-star numbers if extrapolated to a full season ... something neither he nor the Nets have enjoyed so far because of a string of injuries. So the question is whether LeVert needs to “prove himself” in the “bubble,” an always subjective determination.

Lichtenstein, writing for WFAN thinks he has nothing to prove. Dan Favale of Bleacher Report puts LeVert on his list of five “role players” who need to prove they’re stars. Here’s Lichtenstein’s argument...

As for LeVert, he has NOTHING to prove in Orlando. He’s already shown that if you run your offense through him, he can deliver results, and his issues are all health-related – he’s been riddled with varying injuries since his college days at Michigan, and has missed a third of Brooklyn’s games since he was selected 20th overall in the 2016 NBA Draft.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t holes in his game that will be on display as teams key on LeVert, knowing there’s not much firepower behind him.

No, LeVert doesn’t need to prove he can be trusted with the ball in his hands. If there is an on-court question, it is whether he can play as well without it, since Durant and Irving are both ball-dominant players. Can LeVert adjust to being a third wheel, someone who gets fewer isolation/pick-and-roll opportunities and becomes a spot-up option in crunch time? It’s a question of fit, not talent.

Favale goes more half-empty than Lichtenstein’s half-full. His numbers are more a deep dive.

Limited availability is part of the unknownness. He has missed at least 20 games in three of his first four seasons, including this one. The depths of his offensive bag are just as debatable. He has flashed off-the-dribble shot-making, a tough-to-guard first step and genuine orchestration—he can throw cross-court passes on the move and toss spot-on feeds after leaving his feet—but his finishing at the rim is suspect, and he bails out on too many of his drives.

LeVert’s overall efficiency this season isn’t doing him any favors, either. Among 46 payers to log at least 1,000 minutes and a usage rate of 25 or higher, his true shooting percentage ranks...46th.

Favale also enters the “third star” debate on LeVert...

Whether LeVert can be that player remains to be seen. That’s the crux of his intrigue. His apex is still in question. And while Brooklyn’s roster isn’t currently conducive to helping his case, anything he shows will go a long way toward endearing himself to the franchise as a keeper rather than a trade asset.

So far, we don’t even know where LeVert will be on the court when the ball goes, starting with the opening scrimmage Wednesday night vs. the Pelicans. Will he be the point guard of a run-and-gun small-ball offense or will he be off-ball, rolling up big numbers out of necessity?

That said, this isn’t much of a sample. Even if the Nets make the playoffs and take a first round opponent to the full seven games, they won’t play more than 15 games. And it could be as few as the eight seeding games and two play-in tournament games. Unfortunately, though, Nets fans haven’t seen many long stretches of LeVert anyway.

His fellow Michigan alum, idol, and now teammate, Jamal Crawford thinks LeVert’s ready for a breakout whenever he next takes the court.

“He’s a student of the game, he always wants to get better,” he told Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson last week. “With that humility and that love and that drive he has for the game, he’s one of the greats in the game for a long time.”

To be continued... and soon.