Caris LeVert 2020-21 Season Highlights

Check out some of the top plays from Caris LeVert's 2020-21 season.

LeVert 2021 Player Review

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Caris LeVert 2020-21 Season Highlights

Check out some of the top plays from Caris LeVert's 2020-21 season.
Jun 14, 2021  |  01:00

Player Review 2021: Caris LeVert

by Wheat Hotchkiss
Pacers.com Writer/Editor
@Wheat_Hotchkiss

Age: 26
Years Pro: 5
Status: Signed through the 2022-23 season.
Key Stats: Started 35 games for Indiana, averaging 20.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists, and 1.5 steals. Shot 44.3 percent from the field and 82.2 percent from the free throw line. Averaged 18.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 1.1 steals in 12 games with Brooklyn (four starts) before being traded to the Pacers.

Caris LeVert overcame unimaginable adversity in 2021, facing a challenge far more significant than any he might see on the basketball court.

Any Pacer fan knows LeVert's story well. He was traded to Indiana in the four-team blockbuster that also sent Victor Oladipo to Houston and James Harden to Brooklyn. A routine physical shortly after the trade agreement revealed a mass on LeVert's left kidney, which subsequent tests determined was renal cell carcinoma. The trade went through, but LeVert underwent surgery to treat the cancer shortly thereafter.

Simply returning to the court, which LeVert did less than two months after undergoing surgery, would have been a tremendous success. But not only did LeVert play basketball again this season, he played really, really well.

PHOTO GALLERY: Caris LeVert's 2020-21 Season in Photos »

So well, in fact, that he set new career highs in scoring, rebounding, assists, and steals. So well that he quickly established himself as the Pacers' top option in late-game situations. So well that, after just 35 games, he has become a cornerstone of the franchise's future.

The 26-year-old University of Michigan graduate had grown into a major scoring threat after four-plus years in Brooklyn. He scored 51 points against Boston last March and dropped 43 on Memphis early into the 2020-21 season on Jan. 8. But the Nets boasted two of the NBA's top scorers in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and couldn't pass up the chance to add a third in Harden, which made LeVert expendable.

The Pacers pounced on the opportunity, acquiring LeVert for Oladipo's expiring contract, a move that has the potential to become one of the biggest steals in franchise history.

Of course, no one expected what came next. LeVert, an elite athlete just entering the prime of his career, had cancer — something that would not have been discovered until much later had he not been traded and undergone an MRI of his back.

The Pacers — led by owner Herb Simon — stuck by LeVert, refusing to attempt to renegotiate the deal. While LeVert was unable to join his new teammates on the court as quickly as expected, he still immersed himself in the organization, attending practices and games both before and after his surgery.

The procedure delayed his debut with the Blue & Gold and limited his basketball activities for several weeks, but he was cleared to return to the court in March. After a few practices, he played for the first time on March 13 in Phoenix. He showed some signs of rust, but still managed to tally 13 points and seven rebounds in one of the team's most impressive wins of the season.

Caris LeVert

Photo Credit: Matt Kryger

As one might expect, LeVert was inconsistent initially after the long layoff, averaging 14.9 points on 37.7 percent shooting over his first 10 games with the Pacers. But even still, he showed flashes of burst and scoring abilities that no one else on the roster possesses.

On March 24, in just his second home game as a Pacer, LeVert electrified Bankers Life Fieldhouse, scoring 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting (4-of-7 from 3-point range), six rebounds, four assists, and two steals in a win over Detroit. With the Pacers up two late in the game, Indiana put the ball in LeVert's hands and he delivered, drilling a step-back three to seal the win.

As he got more games under his belt, LeVert looked more and more comfortable. He averaged 22.1 points on 47.7 percent shooting in April, then bumped his scoring average up again to 24.8 points in May.

LeVert topped 20 points in 17 games and surpassed 30 points five times, including four of his last 10 games. But he was more than just a scorer.

When Malcolm Brogdon went down late in the regular season with a hamstring injury, LeVert slid over to point guard. He averaged 7.4 assists in May while running the point, recording three double-doubles. He had 31 points and 12 assists in a win over Atlanta on May 6, nearly recorded a triple-double (35 points, 14 rebounds, and eight assists) against Washington on May 8, and tallied 28 points and 12 assists in a win over the Lakers on May 15.

LeVert's playmaking gives the Pacers another unique talent that, on paper at least, complements each of the other top players on the team. LeVert seemingly developed a strong chemistry running the two-man game with All-Star forward Domantas Sabonis, and also was able to share the backcourt with Brogdon before his injury. Next season, he will presumably have a chance to also play alongside another gifted scorer in T.J. Warren.

LeVert also offered a unique perspective inside the locker room. While the Pacers faced a number of challenges last season, including injuries and tough losses, LeVert faced a far greater challenge off the court. Perhaps for that reason, he often preached to his teammates to play with more joy and reminded the media on more than one occasion that basketball is supposed to be fun.

His stellar season came to an unexpected ending the day of Indiana's Play-In Tournament game against Charlotte, when LeVert was ruled out due to the NBA's health and safety protocols. He was unable to play that night or two days later in the Pacers' season-ending loss in Washington, a situation that undoubtedly frustrated him.

But LeVert should be back on the court and fully healthy next season, a significant blessing after everything he has gone through in the past few months. If his first half-season with the Pacers is any indication of things to come, LeVert has a chance to become one of the franchise's all-time greats.

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