There are those that believe the Brooklyn Nets need to acquire a “third star” this offseason to seriously contend but do they already have one in Caris LeVert?
Endorsing a player’s ‘star power’ after a game such as Caris LeVert had in Boston, scoring 51 points —including 37 in the fourth quarter and OT—always comes across as reactionary. But even after acknowledging the inherent flaw in articles such as these, is there a legitimate argument to be had in advocating for Caris LeVert as a third star for the Brooklyn Nets?
There is a lot to look at here: Injury history, fit, the logistics of his contract as a tradeable asset, and potentially, his willingness to openly defer to two megastars.
We have a large enough sample size to know that LeVert operates at a high level when he is given the keys to the castle. You increase his usage, you inflate his production. But even if LeVert can’t find harmony on the NBA hardwood alongside Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant, and that, in itself, is solely a hypothetical, it does not necessarily mean he can’t be a star for the Nets.
The “sixth man” position is constantly evolving; in fact, having a “seventh man” alongside your first guy off the bench is becoming increasingly more popular. LeVert would still see 28-34 minutes of floor time a night, and likely finish games alongside the starters/whoever had it going that game. That’s a luxury for any coaching staff to possess.
In the 284 minutes that LeVert and Irving have shared the floor, the Nets have a net rating of -10.1. In passes received from Irving, he’s shooting just 37.8 percent from the field. He has yet to learn how to operate in an offense piloted by Irving; he’s appeared lost, not knowing where or how to pick his spots and has often forced the issue, a little too much, once the ball finds its way to him.
The amount of arbitrary possessions the tandem has wasted where one takes out his “do-it-yourself kit” while the other camps out beyond the perimeter and grabs his phone out of his pocket and checks how many likes his last Twitter post—that he deemed a tad bit risky—got, then finally decides to clear his WhatsApp notifications that have accumulated to an ungodly measure over the past few months, and quickly researches what the weather is looking like that weekend is countless. Am I overreacting? Probably, but I want to paint a picture: the fit has been, well, unflattering.
However, that’s not to say those two are incapable of finding a rhythm playing alongside the versatile offensive threat, whose gravity is essentially beyond comprehension, that is Kevin Durant. He compensates for plenty of inadequacies in a half-court setting; if LeVert, whose shooting above a 40% clip since February, can knock down catch and shoot perimeter jump shots and pick his spots, that’s a dynamic offense.
But if he can’t, incorporating a pass-first point guard beside LeVert could do wonders for the Nets when they’re seriously looking to contend next season. Be it an incredibly small sample size, but LeVert and Chris Chiozza have illustrated what can happen if that’s the case. In spurts, he’s shown to be a borderline-elite scorer that can heat up like only a few players in the entire world can. Hell, what’s to say KD or Irving wouldn’t defer to Caris if he was going scorched earth?
On the defensive side of the floor, for this to really work, LeVert is going to have to match his upside as a defender. He has the physical tools, we know this, but he’s often lacked positioning and solid general instincts on that end.
If he can buy-in, and that’s a big “if” as telling someone to suddenly grow a defensive identity after a large sample size that would indicate otherwise is obviously easier said than done. However, if he dedicates this offseason to maximizing his potential as a two-way guard, the fit could prove to be complementary on both ends of the floor.
LeVert has the tools and skillset to finally blossom into the All-Star many of us had destined for him since his sophomore campaign. He’s lacked consistency and has endured untimely injuries that have deterred his growth, but a stroke of luck in that regard and a little flow could go a long way. There definitely is a universe where he’s Brooklyn third star, let’s just hope that universe isn’t fictional.