From rehab to starting, Caris LeVert looks back at his rookie year in the NBA
Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson knew the risks with using a first-round pick on Caris LeVert, a player who was coming off a foot injury and who’d go nearly a calendar year without playing a game before making his NBA debut. But while other teams only saw risk, they a saw talented, humble and hard-working basketball player – one they were willing to hitch their wagon to.
“I go back to the draft interview when Kenny and I sat and interviewed Caris and we left the interview and said, ‘that’s a Brooklyn Net right there,’” Marks said. “Honestly it was that simple.”
One season later, their decision looks validated. LeVert not only stayed healthy, playing 57 of a possible 62 games after making his NBA debut, but proved he was ready to play in the NBA. The rookie averaged 8.2 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists. He shot .450 from the field and .321 from deep in his first season.
“I would say I’m extremely blessed to be in this position,” LeVert said. “It’s refreshing to see that you belong in this league and that you’re doing your part in this league, especially at a young age.”
LeVert’s foot rehab kept him off the court through the first month and a half of the season, so there was the dual challenge of getting his own rhythm and timing back, while simultaneously finding a new gear to compete in the NBA. That was the biggest challenge, though you wouldn’t know it watching him pick off three steals in his nine-minute debut on Dec. 7.
But as the first-game adrenaline wore off, LeVert went through a typical rookie year. His offensive game fluctuated from December to February (his field goal percentage was .358, .500 and .327) before improving and stabilizing in March and April (.487 and .478), the result of more reps in the league.
“The speed of the game was the toughest thing to adjust to,” LeVert said. “Especially after sitting out for a full year. Just with more reps, with more time out there I felt more comfortable. At the end of the day it’s basketball, so your instincts take over.”
He showed some flashes of his high-end skill, putting Wayne Ellington on skates with a crossover on Jan. 25.
LeVert got an extended look in the starting lineup late in the season, starting 25 of the Nets’ final 26 games of the season, which he said was a big confidence booster.
“It was big for me. I didn’t play at the beginning of the season, so for [coach Atkinson] to show that amount of confidence, for my teammates to show that confidence was huge.”
Between the highs of becoming a regular starter at the end of the season, or the lows of a long rehab, LeVert had all sorts of formative experiences in his rookie year. The lesson? Take it all in stride.
“I learned a lot, going from being in rehab the first part of the season to closing out games at the end of the season. I saw every part of it really,” he said. “You just have to stay the course, you can’t get too high or too low on yourself. There is always going to be those highs and those lows, but you have to stay even keel yourself.”
LeVert does allow himself to look back and reflect on some of his individual highlights this season. His first game and first dunk – on the road at Orlando – play on his personal highlight reel, but the first thing he brings up is the team play at the end of the season.
“The three-game winning streak we went on towards the end of the season, it was big for us and myself as well,” LeVert said.
This is an important offseason for LeVert, who will be healthy and spending time in Brooklyn to work on his game. He essentially lost a summer of training last year, so this is a chance to make up for it and to build on a steady rookie year.
“I’ll be back here for a majority of the summer just getting better at everything,” LeVert said. “I can’t wait. I’m a worker, I’m someone who loves getting better and embraces the grind.”