The preseason is over. I’ve watched the games, looked at the stats, obsessed over the highlights, and I’ve come to one final conclusion that I refuse to budge on: the Nets need to start Caris LeVert going forward.
When Kenny Atkinson said things in the offseason about how LeVert could see time at the point, my initial thought was “okay, but D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie are, like, actually point guards.”
(Shout out to everyone who will read this and say “Nah, Russell would be better at the two,” people who are maybe partially correct, but not all the way.)
But the ball being in LeVert’s hand has made this team look really, really fun, and it needs to happen more and more.
What Caris LeVert Brings To The Table
From Big League Graphs, here’s Brooklyn’s shade chart from last season:
Notably, the Nets shot above league average from the left wing and just barely on threes from the top of the key, but not from any other spot on the floor. Meanwhile, here is LeVert’s shade chart:
LeVert struggled from the middle and from the left side — oh man, are there some rough numbers from the left side — but his best area of the floor as a shooter, the right side, is the area of the floor where Brooklyn struggled the most and is also a spot where all three of D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Allen Crabbe shot below average. It’s a simplification to just say that “putting LeVert on the floor increases the kinds of shots you’re able to take,” because it also greatly limits some things to considering the struggles he’s shown from the corner. But if Brooklyn can keep LeVert on the right side of the court, he gives them a dangerous weapon in that zone that the other guards don’t offer.
LeVert’s passing and playmaking are useful as well. Per Bball Index — which is launching very soon and is a very exciting development in basketball analysis — here is LeVert’s talent grades, both on their own and when looking solely at shooting guards:
So, let’s get the negatives out of the way first. 15.5 percentile in perimeter shooting, 5.2 percentile in off-ball movement. The perimeter shooting grade feels appropriate based on that above shot chart, where LeVert was shooting extremely poorly from certain areas of the perimeter. It’s something he could improve on this season, and something that’s looked better in the preseason. Here’s a video from Wednesday’s preseason meeting with the Raptors:
Caris LeVert with a pretty stepback 3: pic.twitter.com/w8KdnWn0Qm
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) October 10, 2018
LeVert does a little shaking, opening up some space, and stepping back for the three. That’s just a small part of an impressive preseason for LeVert, who has looked really good out there. As a quick aside, here’s another fun one from LeVert from that same game:
— NBA (@NBA) October 10, 2018
The finish there by LeVert brings me back to the talent grades and the two places where he really excels — an 83rd percentile rank among two-guards at finishing, and a 97.3 percentile mark in playmaking.
Caris LeVert: Playmaker
Allow me to go off on a tangent about the Houston Rockets. I’m going to end up talking about the Rockets a lot this year because they were the only team to attempt more threes than Brooklyn last year, and also because they’re the team I grew up watching all the time and are also very good right now, so other teams should go ahead and plagiarize things from them.
Houston’s ISO heavy offense isn’t something that the Nets need to get anywhere close to, but their use of multiple ball handlers is. Houston gets to play the style they do because they have two of the league’s best guards in James Harden and Chris Paul and surround those two with good three-point shooters. A D’Angelo Russell and Chris Paul backcourt don’t bring you the elite passing of Harden and Paul, but both are highly capable of making plays with the ball in their hands, and getting Russell some more time off the ball could be beneficial.
To extend this whole Rockets analogy farther, some of Russell’s best spots on the floor are in the mid-range — last year, he shot 11.5% above league average on top of the key twos and 10.8% above league average from the left elbow area, so there are some shades of Chris Paul’s mid-range game here. Russell has to get better from deep, but the only spot he was significantly worse than league average last year was on top of the key threes.
Russell and LeVert should still be better served to stretch the floor than Spencer Dinwiddie is, and Allen Crabbe can’t be used as a ball handler for this team, so the best bet to mimic the more unselfish parts of Houston’s offense comes with a LeVert/Russell backcourt duo.
Who’s The Sixth Man?
Someone has to move to the bench in this scenario, so who is it? The three options are Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Who you think is best served to move to the bench depends on what you think this team should try to do with that starting lineup. If your goal is unselfish play that leads to lots of passes and either open threes or chances for Jarrett Allen to make a play at the basket, you might consider RHJ, since he doesn’t provide you any value from the outside, and putting Carroll at the four does give you the best chance of outshooting your opponents.
But does that give you the best chance to win? I ran three possible starting lineups through Jacob Goldstein’s lineup predictor tool, and here’s how things came out:
- Allen/RHJ/Carroll/LeVert/Russell: ORTG: 111.8, DRTG: 110.1
- Allen/RHJ/Crabbe/LeVert/Russell: ORTG: 111.0, DRTG: 111.7
- Allen/Carroll/Crabbe/LeVert/Russell: ORTG: 110.7, DRTG: 112.0
The Crabbe lineups were worse offensively and defensively. Not the end all, be all of metrics and decisions here, but it seems like playing Crabbe as the starting three presents more problems defensively than it offers positives. Crabbe can also serve, along with Joe Harris, as a strong bench scorer.
Really, Start Caris LeVert!
Do it! Really! He’s the most promising player on this team that isn’t named Jarrett Allen or (maybe) D’Angelo Russell, and he’s such a strong playmaker. Let the rest of his game work itself out. Start Caris LeVert.