The ascent of Caris LeVert has become a source of optimism in a truly disappointing Nets season. The rookie out of Michigan has been playing so well lately that it might be tough for coach Kenny Atkinson to keep bringing him off the bench.
Asked after practice on Wednesday about the potential for giving LeVert more minutes and an expanded role, Atkinson replied, “I’d really love for it to be gradual. That’s best for his development, but then again you never know. Some guys, they keep breaking through barriers. It’d be wonderful if he’s one of those guys.”
With the Nets’ number of draft picks depleted by trades, they dealt Thaddeus Young to Indiana last summer and received No. 20 pick LeVert. So developing him into a major piece for the future has been a profound hope. He returned in December after having a third foot surgery in a two-year span and has steadily emerged.
His length and athleticism made him a solid defensive match in tough assignments against LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan and Paul George. But the offense is coming now, too. Over the past seven games he is averaging 10.1 points on 49-percent shooting and 2.3 assists. Perhaps it is even more impressive given those were all losses in what is now an 11-game slide. His plus-minus number is 1.9 according to basketball-reference.com.
LeVert was asked about whether he would be physically ready to play a bigger part and said, “Whatever coach needs, I’d definitely be willing to do it. I’ve built up good stamina over the last couple of months . . . My body’s ready for it.”
The Nets could be looking at a moment when the time is right for a move. In eight games since he moved to the starting lineup, Joe Harris has been painfully inconsistent with two two-point games and two scoreless games.
“I guess from an offensive production standpoint, I’ve been rather inconsistent,” Harris said. “It’s definitely something I’m trying to be better about going forward: just making sure offensively I am producing at the same level each night . . . For me, specifically, it’s about trying to hunt shots, and you can’t rely on other people to get you open all the time.”
Second-year pro Rondae Hollis-Jefferson said that rookies earn the trust of veteran teammates with how they perform in games and that with LeVert “that’s grown over time and is much better.” So the time could be right.
“He’s making a case for more minutes and more of a role, and that’s just the honest truth,” Atkinson said. “That’s what we’re all seeing when we watch these games.”