A rookie is starting to grow in Brooklyn. The vision new general manager Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson had when they traded Thaddeus Young to get the 20th pick in the first round of last year’s draft to take Michigan small forward Caris LeVert was evident in his career-high 19-point performance in the Nets’ loss to the Cavaliers Friday night at Barclays Center.
In just his 15th game since recovering from foot surgery in February, LeVert not only had his best scoring performance but distributed a team-high five assists, had four rebounds and was a team-best plus-10 even though he often covered LeBron James.
“I just tried to stay aggressive the whole game,” LeVert said. “That’s what the coaches were telling me, what my teammates were telling me. Just stay aggressive on both ends of the floor.”
Squaring off against James was a special treat. “I love competition,” LeVert said. “I’m from Ohio [where James grew up in Akron] as well, so, I grew up watching them play a lot. That’s someone I’ve wanted to play against since I was younger. I just wanted to compete.”
James was a dominant presence in the game with 36 points, nine rebounds and six assists. But when LeVert was man-to-man against him, the rookie had his moments and showed he wasn’t afraid to body up the four-time NBA MVP.
After the Nets fell behind by 24 points in the third quarter, it was LeVert who led a 25-7 run that got them back into the game, scoring eight points during that span to cut the deficit to six points. After the Cavs pushed it back to 16, a three-pointer by LeVert made it an eight-point game with 4:21 to play.
Although the early emphasis has been on LeVert’s defensive skills, his play at the offensive end was as confident and aggressive as it has been all season. “I’ve been working hard in practice with the coaches trying to get my rhythm back,” LeVert said. “I feel it’s coming back slowly, [but] I did less thinking out there and was just playing off of natural instincts.”