Zach Lowe on Caris LeVert and the Brooklyn Nets



No one who has met Caris LeVert in recent decades – like an almost red shirt at the University of Michigan, and a breakout star with the Brooklyn Nets – will be surprised to hear that after Mentiver's leg injury will be minimal sulking Monday .

It is one of the defining characteristics of LeVert – something that has made him a beloved team member and cultural cornerstone of the long rebuilding of the Nets: he takes joy in the success of others, even if things are not going well for him. In Michigan, those in the program were astonished that LeVert was so positively involved, even when three-foot operations disturbed his career.

On the other side of the networks there was general excitement at LeVert's rise from the preseason of the backup to the center of the franchise. Even rivals for that status got in it, partly because LeVert always offers them the same emotional support.

"It's all sincere with Caris," said Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson during an interview in the team's practice facility two weeks ago. "He is real."

It all flowed after the second Brooklyn game, when LeVert dusted Tim Hardaway Jr., his fellow teammate, in a tilting layup to defeat the Knicks. When Atkinson embraced LeVert in the locker room, LeVert smiled and said to him: "I owed you one more, coach," referring to some crunch-time error of Brooklyn's seasonal opening loss in Detroit that Atkinson could not agree to remind.

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Player and coach have quickly developed a special relationship. Two years ago, Atkinson called LeVert to wish him a happy birthday, but accidentally activated FaceTime. (& # 39; I do not even have FaceTime with my wife, "he said, without kidding.) LeVert, surprised, picked up. Six months later, on the birthday of Atkinson, his FaceTime started again. It was LeVert, unsolicited, to create a tongue-in-cheek tradition.

"Like, who even remembers the birthday of their coach?" Early Atkinson. "And then remember that we have this crazy thing?"

Jacque Vaughn, the Nets assistant who worked most closely with LeVert, selected him after that game winner. That shot, Vaughn told him, was proof of what coaches preached all summer.

"Never feel rushed," Vaughn said, repeating a mantra they had developed. "You can reach any place you want, you dictate everything, that was the shot you wanted and nobody could get rid of it. Never feel rushed. "

LeVert thought back to the advice of Spencer Dinwiddie: "Be quick with the paint, but slowly when you get there." LeVert was able to blow through the first line of defense at will. Dinwiddie reminded LeVert to look around when he did.

In other situations, jealousies between Dinwiddie and LeVert may increase. Not in Brooklyn. The success of Dinwiddie does not threaten LeVert. He welcomes help from everyone. He wants to be big, but not at the expense of others.

"He is a fierce competitor, but he is not a jerk like some guys," Atkinson said. "Some boys are motivated by a large chip on their shoulder, it is:" I am better than that guy there. "Caris never talks like that, that's the ultimate culture that suits me: the man who plays super competitive, but in a stylish way."

Everyone in Brooklyn knew that LeVert had earned the right to take the last second. While most players were decamping in the summer for Los Angeles or different home bases, LeVert stayed at his Brooklyn apartment so he could train with the Nets' technical staff. He even let Tahjere McCall, a Nets G League player LeVert, become friends during the summer competition, crashed all summer.

When he left Brooklyn in the past summers, it was usually to train with Kevin Durant in Southern California. (Durant loves him.)

LeVert piled up his lower body to help him contact. During his first two seasons, the Nets followed how often LeVert flew after the layouts.

"He was on the ground all the time, to the point that you were worried about his health," Atkinson said.

Coaches nicknamed LeVert "Bambi" for the way his skinny legs were thrown out under him when defenders disappointed him. "They finally stopped calling me", LeVert told ESPN.com after a practice in Brooklyn earlier this month.

He gave up beef and pork. "Burgers were heavy," LeVert said. "I love Hamburgers. "He started practicing meditation. For an hour a week LeVert slides into a drift pan with sensory deprivation, closes the lid and floats on top of mineral water in darkness." You can have music, but I prefer silence, "he said, visualizing in-game scenarios." Sometimes I even fall asleep, "he said.

"(LeVert) wants to be great," said Nets GM Sean Marks, "and he will do all the work needed to get there." AP Photo / Gerald Herbert

During his first two seasons, LeVert was one of the players par excellence for everything except: he would jump into the track, only for cracks. "I had the process well, but nothing went in," he said.

He found a YouTube video of it Kyrie Irving stands under the board and practices ways to turn the ball into the glass from crazy angles. LeVert imitated Irving. He hoisted thousands of jumpers, and wrote goals for the season: make 200 3s, shoot 40 percent deep. Atkinson mailed him articles with the top 10 of shooters at the LeVert position and urged him to make the following list. Durant suggested to get more bow under his jumper.

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LeVert took it all. Yet Atkinson wanted to take LeVert off the bench. That did not last long.

"It had not revealed itself to the camp," Atkinson said. "And then the camp started, and it was dazzling." Veterans, including Jared Dudley, whispered to Atkinson that LeVert could be their best player.

A rapid, unlikely increase was nothing new for LeVert. He was recruited slightly from high school, with only one scholarship offer in the fall of his final year – from the University of Ohio. When the University of Illinois precipitated Ohio's coach, John Groce, in March of the year of LeVert, Groce refused to take the LeVert scholarship with them.

Shortly afterwards, LeVert visited Michigan for an informal training. Coaches and players had low expectations.

He immediately overwhelmed the team, remembers executives, and Michigan coach John Beilein offered a scholarship. The team considered him a deep bank player and discussed it with a red accent; he supported five future NBA concept choices. But LeVert was so good in practice that coaches quickly put him in the rotation.

He was the best one-on-one player in the team, remembered staff, regularly worked Hardaway, Nik Stauskas, Trey Burke and other future pro's with a jerky style that confused them. Teammates and coaches gave him the nickname & # 39; Baby Durant & # 39 ;.

In Michigan, players did not have access to the gym without a manager after certain hours. Employees remember that LeVert called sheepish managers after midnight and asked if they could let him in. They always did that and they stayed after 2 o'clock in the morning.

Foot injuries ran the LeVert-progress on a sidetrack, but never his involvement level. Anyone in Michigan for LeVert's senior season will remember Cameron Chatman's winning buzzer beater against Indiana in the 2016 Big Ten tournament. What they remember even more than the shot from Chatman, is LeVert's reaction to the bank. He was gone with another foot injury. They would have understood if he was pouting. Instead, he stood beside the carriages in street clothes, a white towel draped over his head.

LeVert crouched down when the shot was in the air, almost in the air. When it fell, he shot the pile for almost everyone.

Surgery later that month – his third in about as many years – threatened LeVert's concept status. He could not work on the NBA pulling cable. Some doctors suggested to interview teams via Skype, so that he did not have to go through long flights. LeVert and his team at Roc Nation refused. They knew that he would hold personal interviews.

The Spurs had watched LeVert for months and wondered if he might slip into them. In February 2016, the Nets hired Sean Marks, Assistant General Manager of San Antonio. Brooklyn had no first-round hitch and had no control over their choices in 2017 or 2018 – remnants of their disastrous trade in 2013 for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

Marks interviewed LeVert anyway. Flanked by coaches, trainers and experts in the field of mental performance, Marks LeVert broke through with difficult questions. Marks would not reveal details, only that the Nets were interested in how LeVert could respond to their intensive sports science program – minute restrictions, close monitoring of every aspect of his health.

"He was not afraid of it," Marks said. "He is the owner of everything." I have missed games, I understand the risk you would take. & # 39; We left and said that we loved his make-up – humility and honesty. There was no doubt that he would maximize his talent, and that is always the decisive question for me. "

LeVert was a gamble. Marks thought the Nets, climbing from perhaps the deepest hole in the league history, had nothing to lose.

"The chances that the 20th select selection is not great," Marks said. "We can take our time, we are rebuilding, we are going to bet on our performance team and our player development team to make the 20th choice and change it a bit more."

During the design process, Marks Atkinson confided that he thought that LeVert, a 6-7-wing, could develop into a lead-ball handler. Sean was the first in our group that said, & # 39; Atkinson remembered. "I was skeptical, curious, but skeptical, I saw the ball treatment, but I was not sure about his decision making."

That was what this season was about. LeVert grabbed some point wait duties last season, when the Nets both Jeremy Lin and D & # 39; Angelo Russell were lost. He would not give them back.

Only 10 rotating players have recorded more drives per 100 ballons this season, per Second Spectrum tracking data, and the Nets score well when LeVert touches the paint.

He has a whole series of fake fake filters for use in close circles, including a Rajon Rondo-like movement where he picks up his dribble under the edge, the ball with one hand reaches far, his defender jumping in the jump and it then Vaughn urged him to develop a counter, so LeVert did: he extended the ball to the baseline and then spun back into the paint for a lay-up.

"Those are the things that I love," Vaughn said.

The ease with which LeVert reaches his salary almost works against the idea of ​​completing his game. "He gets so fast in that tunnel that he can hardly see," Atkinson said.

He quoted a piece against the Pistons on October 31, when LeVert followed an annoying in-and-out dribble – one of his best moves – with a crossover that almost knocked Andre Drummond down. But Drummond kept his balance, and recovered to put LeVert on the edge while Dudley was wide open in the corner.

Atkinson showed LeVert that clip after the game. "There are times when he is so much inclined to drive, he does not see that people are wide and open," Atkinson said.

Dudley regularly shows LeVert one or two fragments of missed passes, sometimes even during the break. LeVert washes back and asks for follow-up questions. "Some young guys do not want to hear you," Dudley said. "Caris does it the right way."

LeVert understands that he must be more than a scorer. He repeats Dinwiddie's advice in his head: "Be quick in the paint, but slowly when you're there." He has learned to rip picks, pin defenders on his hip and search for open passing lanes.

Like many of the best ball handlers, LeVert does much of his work before he even makes a choice. He lures defenders in the wrong direction with different pet movements – shoulder shakes in the direction of picking or off, ballfakes, that annoying in-and-out dribble.

He knows all standard pick-and-roll reads. He has a nice chemistry on drop-off passes with Jarrett Allen, quickly emerging as another Nets center. He can take catapults with both hands to shooters in the weak corner; Before his injury, LeVert started timing those passes, so that help defenders still leaned in the paint – momentum away from LeVert's target – when he released the ball.

"He will pass a left-handed hook to the corner, and you will say," Sacred s —, where does that come from? & # 39; " Atkinson said.

It comes from work. "Getting into the paint is easy," LeVert said. "Seeing whether the help comes is easy – they come or not, the difficult part for me is to see where it comes from and when – and whether I can still finish it, or whether I have to pass it on. Decipher everything without making it too complicated make a challenge. "

Part of the challenge: sometimes the wrong answer is slow. LeVert is deadly when he cuts off the dance steps and just continues:

He had not been able to drive through a big man with so much violence last season. This season it was all about finding balance – between shooting and passing, fast and slow.

LeVert grew at ease enough to sometimes drop Atkinson's playings – much to the delight of Atkinson. & # 39; He always listened to me, & # 39; Atkinson said laughing.

Everything had come together before Monday. While claiming his place within the Nets, LeVert was ready to do the same within the larger Brooklyn community. He recently launched the 22 initiative, in which he selected 22 (LeVert & # 39; s back numbers) high school students in Brooklyn for a mentorship program. LeVert follows their academic progress, visits their schools, organizes training events and invites them for competitions.

On the field, LeVert was not entirely there. He hit only 31 percent of the injury. He can be too cute with fits in the interior and too much dribbling in tight places.

He will occasionally bridge an open 3 for high-wire drives.

"I tell him that if you make 10 open 3s in a game, that's good," Atkinson said. "Driving is his comfort zone, the next level gets him out of that comfort zone and accepts that 3-and."

The Nets had been with him to finish possessions on defense and his rebounds rose from 4.3 per game to seven, according to coaches.

But Levert was undoubtedly on the way. LeVert develops at least a borderline All-Star would mean everything for the Nets. All the rattling about reconstructing a broken franchise by Marks resulted in a bit stingy rival: what exactly do the Nets have for high-end talent for all the loss and all the smart transactions in the margins? Do they have someone who would start with a good team?

There was a core of truth. Russell remains a question mark. Dinwiddie is a wonderful find, but his absolute ceiling is probably something like an average guard for the starting point. The Nets have chosen Allen Crabbe about acquiring a new first round in a payroll dump, and that bet seems like a failure.

LeVert gives them something real to build on. Without him for at least part of the season, Brooklyn could accidentally come out of the play-off race – and come into position to find another such player.

"He wants to be great," Marks said, "and he will do all the work needed to get there."

Monday will not change that.


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