The Brooklyn Nets’ Caris LeVert Quandary

Caris LeVert’s rather pronounced struggles have put the Brooklyn Nets in a quandary. How should they react?

Before we even get started, let me make myself clear: I’m a fan of Caris LeVert, and I always hope for success for every player on the Brooklyn Nets’ roster. I believe in his potential; so much so that I have him on my fantasy team (if that isn’t trust, what is?) I also think the sixth man role that Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash has put him in is the ideal role for such a ball-dominant player. 

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Yet, in a season deemed the most important in Nets history, we’re seeing the same problems that have plagued LeVert his whole career. This is not good — not at all. Though the Nets have only played seven games, and this could definitely be seen as an overreaction, the same inconsistent, head-scratching play of LeVert still exists.

Let’s briefly revisit the 2018-2019 season. LeVert started the season hot, averaging 18.3 points per game while shooting 47 percent from the field through the first 14 games. Then, as we remember against the Timberwolves, LeVert went down in a heap after driving to the basket with appeared a gruesome leg injury. Fortunately, though nothing about the play should be deemed as such, the injury did not require surgery.

In what was referred to as a “subtalar dislocation of the foot,”  Caris was held out of action for two-and-a-half months. Upon return — and to no surprise — it took time in shaking off the rust after his long absence, but he managed to steadily increase his points and assist output every month since his February return.

However, what truly brought Nets fans hope in LeVert’s game was his play in their playoff series versus the Philadelphia 76ers. LeVert was easily the Nets’ best player in the five-game series, averaging 21 points, four rebounds, and three assists against a legit contender in the conference.

At the start of the 2019-2020 season, there was the expectation of another leap from LeVert — especially alongside Kyrie Irving. We were met again with deja vu, where he had a solid start to the season, before missing another month due to a hand injury. LeVert struggled upon his return but broke out just in time to drop a 50-piece on the Boston Celtics in TD Garden before the season was abruptly halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, when the season restarted in the Orlando bubble, we were introduced to a different Caris LeVert.

“Bubble LeVert” took his game to new heights, mainly out of necessity. Many of the Nets’ players either opted out of the bubble or contracted COVID-19. LeVert led the ragtag group of players to a surprising 5-3 record and averaged 25 points, 6.6 assists, and 5 rebounds a game.

That iteration of LeVert was aggressively getting to the basket and scoring. He was also creating for his teammates. His breakout in the bubble was solidified once he went toe-to-toe with Damian Lillard, almost hitting a game-winning shot to cap off his 37-point performance in what had the dynamic of a playoff game.

The bubble showed that maybe the Nets didn’t have to look elsewhere to find a third star to pair with Irving and Kevin Durant. LeVert’s performance in the bubble proved that he has the ability to be the third star for a Nets team with championship aspirations.

Now to the present, seven games into the season. We haven’t seen the aggressive scoring, in-control playmaking that we saw from LeVert in Disneyworld. For a championship-contending team that needs their third star to perform, this is troubling.

Statistically, you can say that 14.3 points, 5.7 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game is solid. However, he’s shooting a mediocre 39.3 percent from the field and an ugly 28.1 percent from three. Sure, LeVert had the 20-point game versus the Warriors and a 28-point, 11-assist double-double game versus the Grizzlies without KD and Kyrie. But the eye-test tells us a different story.

LeVert is seldom driving to the basket, settling for floaters and contested jump shots. We see poor decision making leading to turnovers or missed scoring opportunities. The most glaring incident was during the Grizzlies game. With a chance to win the game, LeVert opted for a step-back three that clanked off the rim instead of driving to the cup or looking for a more favorable shot. The Nets soon fell in overtime. 

The season is early, and the first 10 to 15 games can be considered an “extended-preseason” due to the abbreviated offseason. The Nets have things to figure out in order to reach their full potential of a championship team. Though the season is long, time is against them. But, for LeVert, time is not a commodity. The Nets need him to step up and return to bubble form as soon as possible, especially with the loss of fellow guard Spencer Dinwiddie to injury. If not, the Nets might have to reach deep into their talented bench to get more help, or worst case, look outside and make some moves.