Brooklyn Nets: Caris LeVert, Allen Crabbe nearing returns

Brooklyn Nets Caris LeVert (Photo by Matteo Marchi/Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets Caris LeVert (Photo by Matteo Marchi/Getty Images) /

The Brooklyn Nets are inching closer to getting two of its clipped wings back on the court, as Caris LeVert and Allen Crabbe are practicing in the G-League.

It was a piece of news Brooklyn Nets fans have been looking forward to.

On Tuesday, the Nets assigned injured wings Caris LeVert and Allen Crabbe to their Long Island affiliate in the NBA G League for practice, a sign both players are nearing returns to action.

The Long Island Nets announced the assignments.

LeVert has missed exactly half the season at this point, 41 games, since he dislocated his right foot just before halftime in a Nov. 12 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves at Minneapolis.

Crabbe had been out for the last 26 games since banging his right knee on the floor after being fouled on a drive against the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 12. (Note: May need to rethink this “scheduling games on the 12th of the month thing.)

The Nets have been in a free fall offensively since Spencer Dinwiddie went down with torn ligaments in his right thumb. The Nets are 2-4 without Dinwiddie, have lost four of their last five and their last three in a row.

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In the process, Brooklyn has an offensive rating over that span of 99.7 — second-worst in the NBA — to go with the worst effective field goal percentage (44.8) in the league.

LeVert was leading the Nets in scoring when he went down, averaging 18.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.2 steals in 29.7 minutes per game on shooting percentages of 47.5 percent overall and 31.1 percent from 3-point range.

While LeVert may not be a terrific 3-point threat, what he can do is bring back the penetration element lost since Dinwiddie went down. Shabazz Napier is fearless in driving to the rim, but is not quite as adept at kicking the ball out to open shooters as are LeVert and Dinwiddie.

Crabbe, meanwhile, continues to be a target of fan angst because of his hefty contract — he is the highest-paid Net at $18.5 million this season and has a player option at the same figure for next season — but he was shooting extremely well at the time he was injured.

He struggled mightily to get his shot going after returning from a preseason ankle injury and discovering his starting spot had been usurped by Joe Harris‘ strong play.

In 28 games this season, Crabbe has averaged 9.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in 26.1 minutes a night on shooting of 34.3 percent overall and 38.7 percent from 3.

But in 15 starts following LeVert’s injury, Crabbe was averaging 12.0 points and 3.6 boards in 28.6 minutes on 41.1 percent and 46.5 percent shooting.

He had been particularly toasty in his last four games before he was hurt, averaging 17.5 points and 4.3 rebounds in 31.2 minutes while shooting 48.8 percent overall and 55.9 percent from long range.

Provided it doesn’t take Crabbe a month to get his shot back into working order once he returns, he will give the Nets another floor spacer, something they’ve sorely lacked of late.

What Crabbe won’t provide is much playmaking — he was a reluctant driver before Amir Johnson tried to plant him through the floor of the Wells Fargo Center. Instead, his tendency is to take a dribble and settle for a long 2 when confronted with a hard closeout.

That’s not ideal. But when you have Napier down to 34.7 percent shooting from 3 after a team-record 0-for-10 performance in Monday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks and Theo Pinson shooting 26.7 percent from deep, getting another spacing threat on the floor will be big for the Nets.

And, as someone pointed out to me recently, would you rather be paying Crabbe $18.5 million for what he produces or giving Andrew Nicholson almost $20 million and having dead cap hits for seven years while Nicholson puts up 28 points and nine rebounds a game … for the Fujian Sturgeons in China?

The Nets traded Nicholson to Portland for Crabbe in a one-for-one deal in July 2017. You think Crabbe’s contract is unwieldy?

Inheriting Nicholson’s four-year, $26 million deal from the Washington Wizards may have been worth getting the pick that turned into Jarrett Allen … but it wasn’t worth keeping Nicholson and his 2.5 points and 1.2 rebounds per game around.

Those were his numbers with Washington after the Wizards opted to give him a rather large contract for a player who had put up 6.5 points and 3.2 rebounds in his first four seasons, was already entering his age-27 season and had missed 68 games the previous two years.

Crabbe wins that one in a landslide.

Not to compare timelines, because the injuries were vastly different, but when Treveon Graham was coming back after missing 36 games with a hamstring injury, he practiced with Long Island once, was assigned there for a rehab game and then returned to Brooklyn.

It’s hard to picture the Nets risking LeVert in a G-League game and Crabbe would likely bypass that as well.

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So help could be coming soon, which is huge news for the flagging Brooklyn offense.