Is Caris LeVert Brooklyn's third star?
Caris LeVert is putting the league on notice.
No longer is he being cast in the light of a project with "potential", but rather as a player who has the qualities of an elite shot-creator in the NBA.
With the majority of the Nets roster sidelined in Orlando, LeVert was presented the chance to showcase his skills across the league and prove his value to the Brooklyn front office. Up to this point, he has taken full advantage of the opportunity.
Through Brooklyn's seed-in games LeVert has averaged 25.0 PPG, 6.7 APG and 5.0 RPG on 48% shooting from the field. The guard is one of three players in the bubble to average 25+ PPG, 5+ RPG and 5+ APG. This feat is remarkable when you consider that LeVert is virtually the only player who can consistently create his own shot on the current roster.
LeVert, the longest-tenured Net, has become a household name throughout four seasons in Brooklyn. From an overlooked, injury-prone late first-round pick in 2016 to the budding star he has become today, LeVert's growth has been spectacular.
Despite this, the question remains: Is LeVert the third star Brooklyn is looking for?
With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving set to return next season, a legitimate third star could be the final piece to Brooklyn's championship roster. Despite his impressive production, there have been doubts as to whether LeVert is the right fit.
A large portion of these doubts stem from the fact that, like Durant, Irving and Spencer Dinwiddie, LeVert is at his best with the ball in his hands. This has been evident in the bubble where he has the 5th highest usage rate among players averaging at least 25 MPG.
LeVert has found the most success operating in the mid-range, something he was actively discouraged from doing during his first three and a half seasons under head coach Kenny Atkinson. A large amount of his mid-range shots are initiated through the pick and roll.
With Irving and Dinwiddie available as ball handlers and Durant demanding his isolation looks, how often will LeVert see these opportunities next season?
Three-point shooting is cause for concern as well. LeVert has shot just 31.6% on 1.7 catch and shoot threes per game this season. 65% of his three-point attempts have come off the dribble and he has been noticeably more comfortable on those shots, converting on 38.7% them.
This all begs the question: Can a player who is most comfortable in the pick and roll and shooting threes off of several dribbles be the third piece alongside Durant and Irving?
The answer to that question depends on several things. Can LeVert continue to do those things at an elite level while rounding out other parts of his game? And who are the alternative options on the market this summer?
Bradley Beal has been the name most frequently linked with Brooklyn. The guard is the only rumored player who is widely considered a better player than LeVert moving forward.
Beal is coming off a career year in which he averaged 30.5 PPG and 6.1 APG on 35.3% shooting from three. He also managed to shoot 45.5% from the field on a staggering 22.9 attempts per game.
The Florida-product is only one year older than LeVert and has showcased the ability to play on or off the ball at an elite level alongside John Wall.
A big three of Durant, Irving and Beal would give the Nets three players who are all at least 38% career shooters from three as well as elite ball handlers and finishers. It is a move that would make Brooklyn a title favorite. If Beal is available, general manager Sean Marks should be doing everything he can to get a deal done.
Outside of Beal, there have not been many rumored players that blow LeVert off the page. Jrue Holiday and Zach Lavine have been associated with Brooklyn, but dealing LeVert for either given his ascending trajectory is a dicey proposition.
LeVert's trade value has been steadily increasing over the course of this season. His bubble performance has given teams an idea of what he can do as a lead initiator offensively. It has also given the Nets a lot to think about in terms of whether they want to trade him.
An alternative route could involve a package including Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen. Both have performed at very high levels this year and Dinwiddie's contract at just $11 million next season is among the best bargains in the league.
Brooklyn would be able to land a very talented player by packaging the two with draft picks while keeping LeVert.
The Nets begin their playoff series against the Toronto Raptors Monday where LeVert will get another opportunity to prove his value across the league.
Toronto's defensive versatility presents a tough matchup for LeVert and the Nets. Led by Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka, Nick Nurse's squad is among the top teams in the league in defending the pick and roll and limiting mid-range opportunities.
Brooklyn will be faced with several crucial decisions this offseason, the most important of which will be LeVert's future.
In the end, LeVert may or may not be the third star in Brooklyn as the Nets embark on their championship journey, but it's safe to say his play in Orlando has given Marks plenty to think about.