The moment inside Target Center last November is etched in Caris LeVert’s mind — rising high to defend at the Minnesota basket, landing awkwardly on his right foot and seeing it bend inward. That foot dislocation cost him nearly three months of his third NBA season.
“For sure, I think about that,” he said Monday after the Nets practiced at HSS Training Center. “For sure. That was a huge moment. It was obviously very tough to go through that injury.”
LeVert returned in February, struggled and then came on late. The 6-7 guard excelled in the first-round knockout by Philadelphia, averaging 21.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 46.2% shooting from beyond the arc.
Now the Nets are about to tip off their season against Minnesota on Wednesday night at Barclays Center. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are the stars on the marquee, although the injured Durant is likely to miss much or all of the schedule. Nets coach Kenny Atkinson thinks LeVert has it in him to become the third star.
“I think he’s trending toward that, I do,” Atkinson said. “Small sample size, but I think he has the ability. I think he has the talent. There are some things he’s got to work on to get there. Am I going to be a two-way player? Am I going to defend, too? Is his catch-and-shoot going to go from 30% to 36%, 37%? I know he’s working on it. But those are kind of the two areas to get to that level, and he knows that . . . But he definitely has the talent and the ability to get to that level.”
LeVert averaged 11.1 points in his first three seasons and 13.7 in 2018-19, but in his first 12 games last season, he averaged 20.3. Two games later, he went down. He came back after missing 42.
“The thing with Caris was even up until his injury last year, we all thought he was playing at sort of an All-Star level,” teammate Joe Harris said. “He had the injury, difficult time coming back, like one would from a significant injury of that manner. But as soon as he got healthy — it was right around playoff time — he was back to his normal self. He had a great summer.”
LeVert said he learned some things along last season’s journey, including“staying focused [and] not letting the situation kind of get you down.”
In August, the Nets handed LeVert a three-year, $52.5 million extension that kicks in next season. He isn’t focused on third-star status at the moment. “Obviously, that’s a long-term goal, but right now I’m not really looking at that,” he said. “I’m just trying to get better every day and try to help the team in whatever way that I can.”
Notes & quotes: The Nets have agreed to a multiyear extension with forward Taurean Prince for two years and $29 million.