Caris LeVert was the talk of Brooklyn Nets training camp. Teammates raved at his burst and called him “unguardable.” He backed that up Wednesday night.
For the first time in his NBA career, Caris LeVert was an opening-night starter, getting the nod Wednesday night at shooting guard for the Brooklyn Nets against the Detroit Pistons.
LeVert didn’t disappoint, matching his career-high with 27 points and very nearly pulling the Nets back from a 13-point second-half deficit before the Pistons hung on for a 103-100 victory.
In training camp, teammates and coaches were raving about LeVert’s development from last season. The lightning-quick first step, the herky-jerky moves as he drove to the basket, the soft touch while protecting the ball until just before committing to the shot — all of it was on display.
On a night when Brooklyn’s 3-point touch was non-existent, LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie did their best to keep the Nets in the game, combining for exactly half — 50 — of the Nets’ scoring on the night.
LeVert’s 27 points matched what he did on March 4 in a road game against the Los Angeles Clippers, but unlike that night in L.A. — when LeVert was 5-for-7 from 3-point range — he did his damage on Wednesday the old-fashioned way, two points at a time.
LeVert missed both of his 3-point attempts on a night during which he was 10-for-18 from the floor and hit 7-of-8 at the foul line.
He also gave the Nets their first lead of the second half with 4:26 remaining in the game, hitting a floater in the lane to put Brooklyn up 92-91 after they had trailed by 13 points midway through the third quarter.
The Nets, as was the case too many times last season, couldn’t get it done down the stretch and to be fair, LeVert was part of that.
He missed a layup after getting an offensive rebound with around three minutes left and with Brooklyn down by just one with 8.5 seconds left, LeVert got stripped in the paint and lost the ball out of bounds.
Still, for a player nicknamed “Baby Durant” while he was at the University of Michigan, it was a big coming-out party. LeVert added four assists, a steal and a blocked shot to his stat column, but did turn the ball over three times — the last being the most costly.
As coach Kenny Atkinson told Brian Lewis of the New York Post earlier this week, it was LeVert’s emergence that helped prompt an offensive switch from a 4-out to a 5-out set.
Clearing the lane of impediments frees up space for LeVert to either use a screen or simply beat his man off the dribble by himself to get himself into the lane, where he can create shots or opportunities for teammates at an increasingly high rate.
If the Nets are going to improve on their 28-victory total of last season, LeVert will be a big reason why as he continues to emerge as the go-to guy the team has lacked since waiving Joe Johnson in 2016.