From the beginning of training camp, anticipation about the Nets’ prospects for the season that opens Wednesday night in Detroit has been characterized by a steady drumbeat of praise for third-year wing Caris LeVert. LeVert moved into the starting lineup at small forward for all four preseason games, played the most minutes of anyone and showed the ability to team with point guard D’Angelo Russell as a co-equal ballhandler and playmaker.
Russell averaged 18.0 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists compared to 14.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists for LeVert. Add backup point guard Spencer Dinwiddie (10.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists) to the mix, and the Nets have three strong slashers who can get to the rim and facilitate for others.
“Our strength is on the perimeter,” coach Kenny Atkinson said after Monday’s practice. “We don’t have a real post-up guy. But now, I feel confident. We’re more of a spread so we can drive the ball better, we can get to the rim better … There’s going to be more room to [pick-and-roll], more room to drive.”
Speaking of the impact LeVert has made, Atkinson added, “In this offense, he can handle it even more than he has. Him and D’Angelo, I really feel like they have a nice synergy. The Knicks were denying D’Angelo full court [in Friday’s Nets win], and Caris just brought it up. D’Angelo was off the ball. They’re embracing that.”
Because Russell is used to having the ball in his hands, there might have been some question how the chemistry between he and LeVert would work, but so far, so good.
“Since he got here, we’ve naturally played well together,” LeVert said of Russell. “We both can play on and off the ball, so it’s been an easy transition. We watch film together, and I know the spots on the floor where he really excels. It’s been easy to play with him.”
The Nets’ other perimeter shooters can look forward to more open looks from the three-point line, knowing how well LeVert and Russell can drive and draw the defense. “It’s tough to guard guys who can put the ball on the floor, pass the ball well, shoot the ball well,” LeVert said. “It’s hard to game plan against that, especially in our offense because it’s a lot of read and react. It’s hard to mimic that and scout for that.”
Forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who is set to return from a groin strain in time for the opener, likes what he’s seen of the LeVert-Russell combination, describing them as a “double threat with the ball, spacing the floor, being able to hit shots, being able to find guys. They’re crafty. You’ve got to love their game, man. They’re not selfish. They love to play with the pass.”
Notes & quotes: Both Russell and Hollis-Jefferson were eligible for rookie contract extensions until Monday’s 6 p.m. deadline but did not receive one. All the Nets must do to retain their rights as restricted free agents next summer is make a qualifying offer. Both said they were unconcerned with the deadline and hope to earn eventual extensions with their play.
“You want to earn an extension,” Russell said. “As far as the timetable on it, I don’t think there’s any pressure. I try to let my play make that happen … I want to win. I’ve lost a lot in this league, so I think if we win, everyone gets what they want. If you don’t get it here, you’ll get it somewhere else. Winning is the problem solver.” … Atkinson said Hollis-Jefferson (groin) and DeMarre Carroll (ankle) practiced fully, Shabazz Napier (hamstring) took part in 50 percent of practice and Allen Crabbe (ankle) was limited but “trending in the right direction.”