Caris LeVert is the Nets' Best Player
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Caris LeVert is the Nets’ Best Player

Caris LeVert, Nets

The Brooklyn Nets have made one of the best NBA turnarounds in history. From being the franchise to make one of the worst trades in the history of the NBA, to becoming one of the most exciting young teams with an elite front office, and the chance to be major contenders for the highest level players in free agency.

When looking for a beginning of how the turnaround began, look no further than general manager Sean Marks, who joined the franchise in 2016, and immediately began crafting a new-look team that was no longer built around out of prime veterans. Instead, it was mix of young players in need of opportunity, as well as castaway veterans, deemed overpaid and without much use.

Marks began recouping assets tossed away by the previous regime in Brooklyn as soon as he took charge. He traded away Thaddeus Young to the Indiana Pacers for their first-round pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. He used that pick, the 20th, on an injury prone wing named Caris LeVert, who showed great potential at the University of Michigan before struggling to stay on the court in his junior and senior seasons with the Wolverines.

LeVert would be the first hit Marks would land in his beginning time with Brooklyn. Instantly, you could see the talent Levert had. He played in 57 games in his rookie season, and displayed the characteristics that made him an integral part of the Michigan team that lost the National Championship to Louisville in 2013.

His second season was even better. In an increased role, LeVert flashed capability as not only a scorer but a floor leader as well. He dished 4.2 assists in just 26 minutes per game. Another aspect of his game was coming together, and his growth placed him in the talk of the Nets’ core alongside D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jarett Allen.

This season, LeVert showed he had the leap. He started off the season on a rampage, playing at an All-Star level. In eight October games, he scored 18.9 points and dished out 4.8 assists per game. He looked like he could be Brooklyn’s “guy.” The same was seen in September, even though his minutes dropped from 32 minutes per game to below 27. His scoring remained nearly the same, averaging 17.7 points, but his 3-point shooting spiked to 36 percent.

The Nets had found their guy without even realizing it. The philosophy was always that D’Angelo Russell would be the guy, and while he had an actual All-Star year, LeVert was doing just as much, if not more than Russell was, and it was rather apparent.

Then disaster struck.

On November 12th, LeVert had to be taken off the court laying on a stretcher, agonizing in pain. He suffered a gruesome right foot injury that was compared to the likes of the injury Gordon Hayward suffered at the beginning of the 2017-2018 season. The immediate reaction was that his season was surely over. However, good fortune struck him and the Nets.

The injury was a clean right foot dislocation, with no fracture. He did not need surgery, just time for it to heal so that he could rehab. This left the door open for a return at some point this year.

He recovered quickly. Soon into February, LeVert was back in uniform for Brooklyn. But his return came with bumps. Through his first seven games back, he shot just 32 percent from the field and 26 percent from distance. The Nets needed him, as their schedule during the second half of the season was one of the toughest in the league, and having all hands on deck would be crucial for Brooklyn’s chances to hold onto one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

LeVert found his form over the last five games of the season, returning to the level he began the season playing at. He averaged 15.8 points on nearly 50.9 percent from the field and over 47 percent from deep. The Nets won their final three games of the season, having miraculously clinched a spot in the playoffs.

In the postseason, LeVert has been nothing short of elite. Being defended by exceptional on-ball defenders in Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons, he has unleashed a hearty game of both scoring from beyond the arc or finishing at the rim.

LeVert has gotten the better of Embiid numerous times both inside and outside.

Here, he draws Embiid on a switch and comfortably steps back and knocks down a 3-pointer over the extending arms of the big man. He has been one of the best long-range shooters in the playoffs, hitting 47.8 percent from deep, better than elite shooters such as Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Khris Middleton.

The 6’7” wing has shown a steadiness attacking Embiid at the rim that could only be rivaled by few. He’s finished against him with fluidity and with no remorse for the rim. One of the best interior defenders in the league has not been able to stop the savvy LeVert.

LeVert has been the one to shine for Brooklyn in the playoffs, fittingly so, as he was the first major move of the Marks era. He has averaged 21.8 points, on 49.2 percent shooting from the field and 47.8 percent from behind the arc. Elite efficiency. He is also averaging five rebounds, 2.9 assists, and a steal per game.

He is a smart passer, and knows when to attack for a shot or differ to a teammate.

Russell and Joe Harris, two other key additions to the Nets made by Marks, have struggled in the postseason, but had fantastic regular seasons. Russell is shooting under 40 percent from the field and has led the team in turnovers. Harris, the winner of the NBA 3-Point Contest at All-Star Weekend, has shot 18.8 percent from the 3-point line through four playoff games.

Luckily for them, their cold streak has been overshadowed by Levert’s risen dominance. They too will play a key role in the future ahead for Brooklyn, one likely filled with many playoff appearances and who knows what else.

Marks has the team set for a chance to be a championship player down the line. Between the youth he has on the roster, the financial flexibility, and the new and exciting culture surrounding the Nets, the team is only going to get better.

Down in the series 3-1 to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Nets’ season may be done soon. But this season showed the archetype of what they are, what they want to be, and what they will become.