Brooklyn Nets' Caris LeVert Readies for a New Role

Brooklyn's hottest player when the season stopped, LeVert looks like the first option in Orlando

A week into practice in Orlando, as the Brooklyn Nets work towards the resumption of their season at the end of July, the NBA restart is shaping up as a moment for Caris LeVert.

It’s something head coach Jacque Vaughn noted right away, declaring after the team’s first practice last Thursday that LeVert stood out from the group.

“I think he just has that different swagger about himself,” said Vaughn. “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. His eye contact, his leadership, he would be a guy that initially has looked really good.”

It won’t be the first time. Two years ago, LeVert drew raves from coaches and teammates throughout training camp, and was on the road to a breakout season with 18.4 points and 47.5 percent shooting through 14 games before being sidelined by a foot injury.

Through nine games this season, while Kyrie Irving’s big start drew most of the attention, LeVert was averaging 16.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists before a thumb injury sent him to the sidelines.

When the season stopped in March, LeVert was playing at likely the highest level of his four-year career. In Brooklyn’s final 16 games, he averaged 24.1 points, 5.3 assists, and 4.8 rebounds while shooting 41.3 percent from 3-point range. During that stretch, LeVert scored a career-high 51 points in Boston, and put up his first triple-double with 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists against the Spurs.

“He’s looking great,” said Chris Chiozza of LeVert’s workout performances. “Out here, he’s doing the job leading us. He’s really playing well on defensive end, offensive end, just all-around playmaking, making shots. It looks like he hasn’t missed a beat since we left off from the break.”

But as the Nets return from the hiatus, LeVert is stepping into a new scenario. For the first time, he won’t be out there with Spencer Dinwiddie or Kyrie Irving or D’Angelo Russell. Offensively, he appears to be Brooklyn’s clear No. 1 option.

Among the players competing in Orlando, LeVert is Brooklyn’s leader in points (17.7), assists (4.1), and steals (1.1).

“My first approach as a staff is to give him some freedom,” said Vaughn. “I think that's a process of maturity. Understanding what the defense, 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 a 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.”

“There's definitely more responsibility, more freedom out there as well,” said LeVert. “It'll definitely be fun. We've got some new guys on the team to integrate into the offense and things like that. Everyone's learning each and every day, so it'll be an experience for everybody, for sure.”

It’s also a moment to lead in spirit, not only in scoring, something that LeVert, who will turn 26 at the end of August, is ready for as well.

“I think it’s just being myself,” said Levert. “The guys are very familiar with me, familiar with my game, what I do on the court. I’m just trying to be myself, go out there and try to do what I do, talk guys through certain situations and things like that, but let guys be themselves, just go out there and hoop.”

“That leadership, and it goes along with keeping guys accountable, it goes along with the communication, it goes with being OK taking criticism — that’s a part of leadership,” said Vaughn. “So Caris is really growing in those areas, and I think it’s a natural maturation as well, the fact that he is more comfortable in his skin as an individual. You saw that in his participation in some of his protests during the march, he’s just at a different level in his life, and I think that just goes with growing up and having more years in the league and being more comfortable in who you are as an individual.”

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