Caris LeVert sped toward the basket with the ball and teammate Quincy Acy along for the trip. The Nets were down three to Indiana and the clock was dribbling down toward a minute and a half remaining Friday night at Barclays Center.
Suddenly, LeVert tried a fancy behind-the-back bounce pass to Acy.
“It’s youthful exuberance, not trying to be a showboat because that’s not him,” coach Kenny Atkinson said after practice Saturday at the HSS Training Center. “ . . . Make the simple pass.”
The Pacers deflected this one. Acy recovered the ball, but he ended up missing the shot inside. Indiana came down and scored, and the Nets were on their way to their eighth straight loss and 11th in a row on their home floor.
LeVert is a very promising rookie, but his first NBA start didn’t go well in any way. He replaced the resting Bojan Bogdanovic at small forward. But LeVert couldn’t shoot straight, going 1-for-9 from the floor en route to just four points over a career-high 29:42 minutes played. Indiana outscored the Nets by 25 when he was on the court en route to a 106-97 win.
“It was tough,” LeVert said. “I felt like I was out of rhythm for most of it. But I still tried to play hard despite the shots not falling.”
The Nets will take their next shot against visiting Toronto Sunday. Bogdanovic could return to the starting lineup, come off the bench or even be moved by the Feb. 23 deal deadline. LeVert, the 20th overall pick whose draft rights were acquired from the Pacers, is the one who’s a primary rebuilding block for this NBA-worst 9-41 team.
The 22-year-old Michigan man has flashed considerable potential, like the time he scored 19 against the champion Cavs. He’s a versatile wing with the ability to play shooting guard and small forward as well as the point. Atkinson had him in at the end against Indiana for his defense. But one thing is clear. This lanky 6-7, 203-pound rebuilding block needs to bulk up. The physical Pacers provided another example as to why.
“There’s no doubt about it,” Atkinson said. “If you look at areas of improvement, [one] is strength.”
A summer spent in a weight room would surely help the cause.
“College is a lot different than the pros,” LeVert said. “Guys are four or five years older than I am. That’s definitely something I’m looking forward to doing this summer and every day right now.”
His season tipped off late because of foot surgery last March. Opening night was Dec. 7. So he has played in just 28 games.
“I think I’m finding my stride for sure, all positive for me,” LeVert said. “I think the best is definitely yet to come.”
He’s averaging 20.1 minutes and 7.1 points, hitting double digits nine times. But there’s certainly room to grow besides muscle size.
“I think that my jump shot could be more consistent,” LeVert said. “That’s something I’m working on . . . Just getting more reps, getting used to the NBA line . . . And then defensively staying locked in the whole possession.”
The Nets were right there late in the fourth quarter of the last three and couldn’t finish the job. Brook Lopez said afterward, “The big thing is you’ve just got to believe.”
LeVert sees it this way: “We’re still trying to find ourselves . . . It’s very encouraging to know that we’re right there with three or four minutes to go in the game. But closing out the game is something that we’re definitely trying to do in the future.”