1. LeVert may have some rust to knock off
Caris LeVert’s return is the big story line for Friday’s matchup between the Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls — at least from the Brooklyn perspective — but it will be important to not get carried away with expectations.
LeVert was headed toward a breakout season at the time he was hurt in mid-November, averaging 18.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.2 steals in 29.7 minutes per game while shooting 47.5 percent overall and 31.1 percent on 4.4 attempts per game from 3.
He had understandably excited fans with the big leap in his performance. Coaches and teammates spent training camp raving about how much LeVert had improved and the third-year wing backed that up with solid performances on the court.
His resume in the first 14 games of the season included a pair of late game-winners, beating the New York Knicks with a penetration drive in the home opener on Oct. 19 and securing the win over the Denver Nuggets on the road Nov. 9 by getting into the paint and canning a 12-foot floater with less than a second remaining.
LeVert will be on a minutes restriction Friday and while coach Kenny Atkinson didn’t reveal what LeVert’s maximum number is, it could be comparable to the 13 minutes Allen Crabbe played Wednesday in his first game back from a knee injury.
Entering the preseason, LeVert was starting at the 3 spot and shifted to the 2 for the final two preseason games and into the regular season after Crabbe sprained an ankle and missed nearly two weeks in October.
When LeVert went down, Crabbe was reinserted into the starting lineup for 15 games before he, too, was injured. At that point, rookie Rodions Kurucs took over at the 3, with Joe Harris moving to the 2.
At least initially, LeVert can fill the playmaking/penetrating role off the bench that had been Spencer Dinwiddie‘s forte before he exited the rotation in late January after having surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right thumb.
LeVert, like Dinwiddie, has excellent size for a guard at 6-foot-7 and is an excellent penetrator and finisher who also has played some point guard in his career, making him doubly dangerous when he gets into the paint because of his ability to find open shooters on kick outs.
He is considered one of the Nets’ cornerstone pieces in their rebuilding effort and his return can’t do anything but strengthen Brooklyn’s bid for its first postseason berth since 2015.