LeVert Makes NBA Debut
By Tom Dowd
Caris LeVert made an impression before he ever got on the court.
“Especially in the beginning, he was kind of set apart working his rehab and then on-court stuff and that can get boring and repetitive,” said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. “So his diligence, his work ethic, his character, all the stuff we believed in when we drafted him has shown. Now that he’s starting to get with the group and we’re seeing him in game-like situations, I believe he’s a system fit. He can shoot the three, he’s versatile, he moves well. Just looking forward to having him with us and getting him involved.”
That was Atkinson on Monday evening. For the first time this season, LeVert had been declared available to play in an NBA game. It was two days later, though, that the rookie made his NBA debut in Wednesday night’s 116-111 win over the Denver Nuggets.
In the Nets’ 21st game of the season, LeVert checked in to start the second quarter.
“It was fantastic,” said Brook Lopez. “You guys didn’t see any of the work he put in. He’s been working for months, since the summer, for that moment. So it was great to see him out there. He was so active, and he brought us great minutes. So happy to see him out there.”
After impressing with his work ethic, LeVert finally had the chance to do so with his play, and he did. In five second-quarter minutes, the rangy 6-foot-7 swingman grabbed three rebounds and swiped three steals.
“The coaches told me to bring some energy on the defensive side of the ball,” said LeVert. “Try to get in the passing lanes a little bit.”
His speed, Atkinson said, was something the Nets needed.
“He had a pop and an energy,” said Atkinson. “I just love how hard he plays. And then you add his athleticism and his quickness. I would say, for being out as long as he’s been out, a very positive start for him.”
LeVert’s debut was an end and a beginning. An end to more than eight months of recovery and rehab that followed two years of foot woes. LeVert’s March surgery was his third in two years after fractures interrupted both his junior and senior seasons at Michigan. In the 15 games he played as a senior, LeVert averaged 16.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists while shooting 45 percent from 3-point range.
The rehab kept him out of NBA Summer League after LeVert was selected 20th overall in the NBA Draft. And practice time, particularly in full 5-on-5 situations, was hard to come by once the regular season began.
So Atkinson was looking forward to getting LeVert started with an emphasis on playing the wing and being comfortable there before considering any point guard role for the versatile guard, starting small and building up minutes over time.
“It was a great feeling to get back out there, especially with my teammates,” said LeVert. “Most important thing is to get the win though. It was a great day.”