Mired in a four-game losing streak thanks to a downward spiral on defense and the absence of point guard Jeremy Lin, the Nets finally had reason to smile yesterday. Coach Kenny Atkinson announced that first-round pick Caris Le Vert participated fully in practice for the first time since left foot surgery last March.
The addition of the 6-6 shooting guard from Michigan has been a source of anticipation and optimism about the future for the Nets (4-9). There is no timetable for LeVert to make his NBA debut, but Atkinson said: “It’s just good to see him out there. He’ll be practicing regularly . . . We’re just trying to build him up so he has the best chance for long-term success. He had a good practice today.”
Dr. Martin O’Malley, who previously repaired foot injuries for the Nets’ Brook Lopez and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, operated on LeVert at the Hospital for Special Surgery while the rookie still was in school before the June draft. The Nets traded forward Thaddeus Young to acquire the No. 20 overall pick, but they believe LeVert might be a steal.
“It felt really good,” LeVert said of his first full practice. “It’s been a long time since I’ve practiced full-go, competed in live drills, so it was a great experience for me.”
The operation in March was the third on his left foot in two years. O’Malley took part of a hip bone and grafted it to the foot. He has assured LeVert that it will result in a long-term fix.
LeVert said he feels 100 -percent healthy and has experienced no foot problems.
“All the work that I put in this summer, all the extra conditioning, it really paid off,” he said. “The performance staff has done a great job building up the other parts of my leg as well. Obviously, the surgery held up, so I feel really good right now.’’
LeVert played in only 33 of 68 games in his final two seasons at Michigan, but in 14 games as a senior, he averaged 17.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists. The Nets are anxious to incorporate such a versatile talent into their lineup, and Atkinson said the plan is to play him at the NBA level rather than the D-League.
“I want to see him in practice, to see him start scrimmaging, to see him slowly start to get minutes,” Atkinson said. “Then we can start defining who he is. But in the draft, it was wing defender, three-point shooter, kind of a ‘three-and-D’ guy.”
It appeared during recent individual workouts that LeVert’s shooting touch is intact. “I think my form held up,” he said. “Today I felt great. My wind is back, and my legs felt good in the drills. It’s been good so far.”
Notes & quotes: Lin (left hamstring strain) went through an exhaustive 45-minute individual workout yesterday, but there is no timetable for his return. “I’d say we’re super-focused on a long-term approach,” Atkinson said. “We want to make sure when he returns to play, he’s ready to go.”