The last time we saw the Brooklyn Nets, we were seeing the best of Caris LeVert. After a long layoff, the Nets will need more of the same when play resumes in Orlando at the end of July.
While it is primarily frontcourt depth that has taken a hit with DeAndre Jordan, Wilson Chandler, and Nic Claxton not available for the NBA’s restart, it’s possible that Spencer Dinwiddie will be out as well after testing positive for COVID-19. LeVert and Dinwiddie had been starting together in the backcourt since Kyrie Irving played his final game of the season on Feb. 1.
“I think for me it’s just taking on that challenge of being a leader, being the leader of that group,” said LeVert. “Going down there with some of the most experience on the team, playoff experience. I feel like I relish these types of opportunities and situations. Everything aside, I’m looking forward to going down there and seeing what we can do.”
Irving’s absence had opened the door for LeVert to return to the starting lineup, and LeVert quickly delivered. He had come off the bench for a month after returning from thumb surgery, but in that first game back in the first five, he matched his career high with 29 points — plus seven assists — against Phoenix. That career high wouldn’t last long, with LeVert putting up 37 points against Toronto later that same week.
Over Brooklyn’s final 16 games before the season was suspended, LeVert averaged 24.1 points, 5.3 assists, and 4.8 assists while shooting 41.3 percent from 3-point range. He was still hitting new heights as the season closed in on its unexpected pause. In the final week of action, LeVert poured in a career-high 51 points in Boston — including 37 in the fourth quarter and overtime — to lead Brooklyn back from a 21-point deficit for an overtime win. Three nights later, he posted his first career triple-double with 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists against San Antonio.
In Brooklyn’s final two games, LeVert had 23 points, six rebounds, and five assists against Chicago and 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists against the Lakers. Overall he’s averaging career highs in points (17.7), assists (4.1), and rebounds (4.1), as well as shooting a career-high 38.1 percent from 3-point range.
“I feel good right now,” said LeVert. “I haven't played in games since March so that's the question I really don't know, but I feel good in my workouts though. And if I didn't, I honestly wouldn't be going down there to play. So I'm looking forward to getting out there.”
There’s no doubt the Nets will rely heavily on LeVert as they adjust to mixing in some new faces while navigating this unusual road back to basketball. Tyler Johnson adds some backcourt depth, and wing Justin Anderson was brought back to take Chandler’s roster spot after spending time with the team earlier this season. There could also be further additions coming.
“Obviously there will be adjustments with different personnel,” said LeVert. “I think that’s inevitable. But like I said, next man up. We have a lot of talented guys on the roster still and I know those guys are very eager to get their chance and opportunity to go down there and make a statement and show what they can do. I’m sure that everyone who has opted in is very excited to go and play.”
The single-site scenario in Orlando puts LeVert and his teammates in an unfamiliar position to complete the season. The NBA’s closed-off campus is designed to limit exposure to the coronavirus. But if the players will be in some ways cut off from the outside world, they’ll be carrying the strain of the pandemic that has altered the routine of American life and the issues of social justice that have risen to the forefront since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“I don’t really have all the answers for all of those things,” said LeVert. “Keeping everybody sane, I know with me, I don’t really do a lot of things anyway. I’ll be fine. I read a lot. I watch a lot of film. For me, it won’t be too difficult to be confined in an area, but for other people, it may be different. There’s definitely bigger issues at hand and every one will handle that differently, but as a team we have each other and we can have conversations and hang out as a team and make sure everybody’s OK.”