As Caris LeVert screamed in agony on the basketball court it jogged a memory of Shaun Livingston screaming on a basketball court and Paul George screaming on a basketball court and ditto for Gordon Hayward. The accompanying tears from LeVert’s teammates (and his opponents) brought the Minnesota-Brooklyn Monday night game to a crashing halt. Silence accompanied the stretcher and medical personnel.
In the best of times basketball is entertainment to the fans and a livelihood to the players. But when a severe injury punctuated by a scream shatters the air everyone reverts back to the empathy and sympathy card and is, frankly, stunned at the turn of events. This isn’t supposed to happen.
The Knicks who are fake rivals to the Nets tweeted afterwards “One city, one love. Prayers up @Caris Levert.” NBA players followed in kind, tweeting support for LeVert as he was being tended to and then loaded on a stretcher for the hospital. Everyone who didn’t go to medical school thought they had. Shortly thereafter, stories about a broken ankle and torn ligaments appeared with no factual basis. Just guessing.
This morning when the real doctors had a look at Caris LeVert’s foot, they came to the conclusion he wouldn’t need surgery. He dislocated his foot and will return this season. LeVert escaped the Paul George and Shaun Livingston and Gordon Haywood injury matrix. He was lucky, blessed, spared and his season, not to mention frontrunner status for the Most Improved Player award, is still on track.
The Brooklyn Nets have been the story no one is talking about. They are in the 8th seed right now, two games under .500, and Caris Levert is the reason why. The 20th pick in the 2016 draft is putting it all together and is the Nets best player. Last week, as time expired, he juked Denver’s Gary Harris in a blow by then dribbled into the paint and drained a game winner.
Caris Levert is the centerpiece for the Nets being relevant again particularly since this is the first year they are out from under the Danny Ainge punishment. They can actually go out and try to win games. While everyone was focusing on the good and bad, ups and downs of D’Angelo Russell, Caris Levert quietly was becoming a NBA player to reckon with.
The 6-7 wing player from Michigan was drafted by the Pacers in 2016 and traded to the Nets in July of that year. One of the Nets team doctors had performed surgery on LeVert when he injured his foot in college. LeVert was so concerned about his injuries hurting his NBA chances he wrote a letter to the league’s GM’s assuring them he was resilient, both physically and mentally.
He played 21 minutes as rookie, 26 minutes last season, and this, his breakout year, he is almost at the 30 minute mark. He has career highs across the board. Points (18.4), rebounds (4.3), free throw attempts (4.4), field goal percentage (47.5%), field goals attempted (14.6).
His offensive rating of 110 is 7 points higher than last year. His PER of 18.8 is 4.5 points higher than last year. His usage rate is 26.8%, second highest on the Nets.
He’s efficient everywhere on the floor except threes. He gets to the rim by driving, having attempted 71 layups and can easily beat his defender with his handles and moves. In the 4th quarter, he shoots 54% which is why the Nets and fans love him. He comes through when the pressure is on. The fans have rallied around him because he is that player every team needs, someone you can trust.
When he went down it felt like more Nets bad luck. They have turned the page on the Deron Williams disaster and the Danny Ainge fleecing. They are building something. It’s why what happened in Minnesota was crushing, particularly when it was such an important player and teammate and all around good guy as LeVert is. It’s human nature to want nice things to happen to people who genuinely care about other people, who aren’t jealous, vindictive, mean-spirited or looking for an angle to get over.
Despite great character, the easy way has eluded LeVert. His father was his best friend in high school but died at the very young age of 46, stricken by a bad heart. When LeVert entered the University of Michigan he was an afterthought, hardly a blue chip recruit. He injured his foot, a stress fracture. He injured it again, then a leg injury.
Kenny Atkinson, Nets coach, says of LeVert “he is the heart and soul of our program. He’s made a huge jump.”
Religious and faithful, LeVert once told Reid Forgrave of CBS Sports”
“God doesn’t make mistakes. Mistakes don’t really happen in life. Everything really happens for a reason. It’s not what happens to you. It’s how you react to what happens to you. It’s how you grow from that. It’s how you get stronger and smarter from it.”
The Nets will miss LeVert while he recovers but when he returns the NBA will be better and at the same time the NBA will be on notice. Caris LeVert is coming.