This isn’t the same Caris LeVert the Nets saw before the NBA break.
No, this one is better. Far better.
Yes, he’s gotten bigger and stronger, but the change isn’t just about his build or even his basketball. Coaches and teammates note a swagger and confidence so far in Orlando. Simply put, LeVert has matured. He’s more comfortable in his own skin, not just as a player but as a person.
“He just has that different swagger about himself,” interim coach Jacque Vaughn said Tuesday via Zoom. “He’s put in work individually on his game during this hiatus. You can sense it in the way his shoulders are, in the way he’s carrying himself, his eye contact, his leadership. He’d be a guy that initially has looked really good.”
The NBA season was suspended due to coronavirus on March 11 with LeVert riding a hot streak. With the Nets in Disney the past week preparing for the league restart later this month, the young guard’s quantum leap forward, in terms of leadership, has been crystal clear.
“It’s just being myself,” LeVert said. “The guys are very familiar with me, familiar with my game, what I do on the court. I’m just trying to be myself, go out there and try to do what I do, talk guys through certain situations but let guys be themselves. Just go out there and hoop.”
LeVert was hooping better than he ever had when the season was suspended. In his last 16 games, dating to Feb. 3, he averaged 24.1 points, 5.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds. He shot 41.3 percent from deep.
He led the Nets to a 4-1 mark in their last five games. There was his career-high 51 point eruption to stun the Celtics in Boston and his first career triple-double to drill the Spurs. He finished with a 22-point, seven-board game to beat the Lakers in Los Angeles.
It was the best week of his career — but so far in the restart there are signs it might just be a harbinger.
LeVert has come back changed — and it’s not just the cornrows, or the added muscle. He’s grown more socially active, taking part in four or five Black Lives Matter marches during the layoff. He’s become a more vocal leader for a shorthanded Nets team that will need it.
“That leadership, and it goes along with keeping guys accountable, it goes along with the communication, it goes with being OK taking criticism — that’s a part of leadership,” Vaughn said. “So Caris is really growing in those areas.
“It’s a natural maturation as well, the fact that he’s more comfortable in his skin as an individual. You saw that in his participation in some of his protests during the marches. He’s just at a different level in his life, and that just goes with growing up and having more years in the league and being more comfortable in who you are as an individual.”
LeVert will turn 26 on Aug. 25. If the Nets are still playing by then, it will mean they reached the postseason — and he likely led them there.
“[I have to] help other people and bring them along,” LeVert said. “Honestly, it’s been fun. I can’t wait until the games start.”
The growth hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates so far in Disney.
“He’s looking great,” Chris Chiozza said. “Out here, he’s doing the job leading us. He’s really playing well on defensive end, offensive end, just all-around playmaking, making shots.”
Recognizing how far LeVert has come, Vaughn said his first approach has been to give the guard more freedom.
“That line of thinking will allow him to get into his bag a bit and showcase more than he’s done in the past,” Vaughn said.
“There’s definitely more responsibility, more freedom out there as well,” LeVert said. “It’ll definitely be fun.”
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