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  • Erik Slater

Caris LeVert represents something bigger for Brooklyn

Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks saw a special player when he made a deal to get Caris LeVert with the 20th pick in the 2016 draft.

He saw a talented player with a determined work ethic who possessed the mental fortitude to excel at the next level. Marks took a risk on LeVert and he has turned out to be everything the Nets could have hoped for.

When the budding star went down with what looked to be a gruesome leg injury Monday night, many Nets fans feared they may have lost a young franchise cornerstone, something they have been deprived of for years.

Fortunately for Brooklyn, LeVert’s injury appeared much worse than it was. The 24-year-old suffered a dislocated right foot with no fractures and is expected to return this season.

No surgery for LeVert and he is expected to make a return this season. LeVert flew home with the Nets from Minneapolis last night, went to hospital in New York and ran tests that showed no fractures and moderate ligament damage.

Brooklyn’s Caris LeVert has suffered a dislocated right foot. As positive of an outcome given the circumstances.

Despite this, the impact the injury had on LeVert’s teammates, as well as the entire fanbase, shows how much the 22-year-old means to the organization.

Several Brooklyn players such as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Joe Harris were in tears on the court following the injury. Harris told media after the game that the injury left his teammate in a state of shock, per YES Network.

“I don’t even think we talked when we came in at halftime. There was nothing to be said. You could just feel the emotions of everybody. Guys were crying.

“Caris has been the heart of our team. The amount of work that he’s put in up this point, his attitude never wavered from the moment he’s gotten in here. He’s been just as good a person as he is as a ballplayer, an even better person matter of fact.”

LeVert embodies the attitude and culture that the Nets preach within the organization. He keeps his head on his shoulders and comes to work every day with the intention of being the best he can be. Coach Kenny Atkinson summed it up this way:

“He’s the heart and soul of our program.”

Adversity is nothing new to LeVert. When he was 15-years-old, he and his brother found his father dead on their living room couch. The Ohio native only received three scholarship offers, the first of which didn’t come until his senior year.

Upon his commitment to Michigan, head coach John Beilein told LeVert that he would most likely redshirt his freshman year, but the scrappy guard had other plans and worked his way into the lineup by the end of the season.

LeVert enjoyed success while on the court at Michigan, but a lingering foot injury derailed his college career. LeVert would undergo three foot surgeries while at Michigan that significantly lowered his draft stock. LeVert addressed the concerns in a letter to NBA GMs before the draft.

“It’s a strange thing for me to hear, honestly, because I know all about adversity and resiliency. I learned about those things at a young age. Had to. Didn’t have a choice.”

Through all that he had gone through, LeVert never lost his drive or confidence that he would eventually be a star.

The character and resiliency that Marks witnessed LeVert develop through facing constant adversity convinced him that the injury-prone wing was worth taking a risk on in the first round.

Now, more than two years later, LeVert’s resiliency is being tested once again. Moments like these are why Marks had the confidence to select LeVert. Atkinson has no doubts the young player will bounce back.

“I just know Caris — if anybody’s coming back from this, knowing the human, the character, the person, the player, he’ll come back from this.”

Marks’ first-round selection of LeVert was a clear gamble. Up to this point, the gamble has paid off. LeVert has been on a constant upward trend in his first three seasons.

LeVert showed promise as a versatile two-way guard in his first two seasons and was in the midst of a breakout campaign prior to Monday night’s injury.

At 6’7″ with a 6’10” wingspan and tremendous athletic ability, LeVert has the measurables of the prototypical 3-and-D wing. The versatility that these types of players offer has made them an invaluable commodity in today’s position-less, fast-paced NBA.

LeVert’s diverse skill set is his greatest asset. He can defend multiple positions using his length, score in transition, finish at the rim, shoot from the outside and pass off penetration.

Defensively, LeVert has been solid. He is continuously active, using his quickness to stay in front of defenders and get over screens while his length allows him to deflect passes and challenge shots.

He is often given the task of guarding the opposition’s best player and has excelled on the defensive end as a result. His defensive prowess was evident in a blowout win over the Suns in which he held Devin Booker to 20 points on 6-for-21 shooting in 36 minutes.

LeVert has risen to a new level offensively this season, averaging 18.4 points per game through his first 14 games. It all begins with a lightning quick first step for LeVert.

His explosive athletic ability allows him to blow by defenders and his impressive body control allows him to finish over helping big men at the rim.

An astute awareness on drives has helped LeVert score in different ways. He has shown patience when cut off in the paint, often using several ball fakes off pivots to get the defender to overcommit and open a lane for an easy layup.

The 22-year-old looks more composed with the ball in his hands in his third season. While he was often out of control leading to turnovers in the past, LeVert now plays at a controlled pace, picking his spots and understanding when to finish at the rim, pull up, dish off to a big man, or kick to shooters.

Atkinson noted the change in pace of LeVert’s game earlier in the season, telling Bryan Fonseca of NetsDaily:

“He’s played excellent offensively and then defensively, he’s been good, too. Confidence, I think he’s slowed down his game a little, understanding the pace, when he can go and when he can pull back.”

LeVert and Jarrett Allen, possibly the only long-term foundational pieces in Brooklyn, have shown great chemistry on the offensive end. Both have a sound understanding of how to play off each other.

LeVert uses Allen’s screens and his quickness to probe and keep his defender on his back hip. Once LeVert has used the screen or beat his defender off the dribble, he reads the opposing big man. If he challenges, LeVert dishes or lobs to Allen. If he hangs back, LeVert takes the floater.

There is still work to be done on LeVert’s 3-point shot. He converted on just 31 percent of his attempts to start the season. However, he has shown confidence and proper shooting mechanics that lead you to believe he can easily improve in that area.

The most promising development in LeVert’s game is undeniably his composure with the ball in his hands down the stretch. He has played calm and under control in the final minutes of several tight games, scoring game-winning baskets in the final seconds against New York and Denver.

Brooklyn lacked a true closer last season. The offense often went stagnant in the final minutes leading to late game collapses. LeVert has stepped up as Brooklyn’s go-to scorer in clutch spots.

LeVert has always been a tireless worker and passionate student of the game and it is finally paying off. Prior to his injury, the guard had the look of a most improved player candidate and a potential All-Star.

This injury is a minor setback that will eventually serve as yet another testament to LeVert’s resiliency and work ethic.

The 22-year-old represents something bigger for Brooklyn. He exemplifies the culture Marks and Atkinson have been determined to establish and has become the young foundational building block that Brooklyn fans have yearned for.