Less than 24 hours after Caris LeVert was stretchered off the floor at Minnesota’s Target Center, the Brooklyn Nets received the news on Tuesday that the third-year guard would not require surgery and is expected to return to the court this season.
The dramatic images of LeVert’s right leg injury after he crashed to the floor in the final seconds of the first half against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday left Nets players and their coach Kenny Atkinson shaken, and drew an outpouring of support from around the NBA via social media.
But the examination by Nets’ Team Orthopedist Dr. Martin O’Malley at the Hospital for Special Surgery on Tuesday produced a diagnosis of a subtalar dislocation of the right foot, far less serious than initial images of the injury might have suggested.
“Fortunately, tests performed this morning revealed that there are no fractures and only moderate ligament damage,” said Dr. O’Malley in a statement released by the team. “While the optics of this injury may have appeared to be more severe, surgery will not be required. Caris will begin a period of rehabilitation with the Nets’ performance staff, following which he is expected to return to full strength and resume all basketball activities without any limitations this season.”
Following Monday’s game, Atkinson called LeVert “the heart and soul of our program” during a brief postgame media session.
LeVert had already put 10 points, five rebounds and four assists in the books when he chased down Minnesota rookie Josh Okogie in transition in the final seconds of the half. Leaping to make a play, LeVert did a 180 in the air and landed awkwardly on his right foot, so much so that teammates were visibly upset at the sight and the arena turned silent while LeVert was tended to and taken off the court.
It was a scary moment for a player who has already battled back from injury. LeVert underwent three foot surgeries while at the University of Michigan and saw both his junior and senior seasons cut short by injury after making the All-Big 10 Second Team as a sophomore. He toured the country interviewing with teams before the 2016 NBA Draft even as he worked his rehab after that final surgery, fitting in sessions in one city or another.
“The physical part, it was tough,” said LeVert back in January of 2017 during his rookie season. “But mentally having to go through that two or three times; the third time I knew what I had to do, but I had done this before and it was tough the first two times and I was like, man, I’ve got to do it again. But I knew at the end I would see progress, so I just tried to stick with it and keep going.”
LeVert made his NBA debut in December 2016 and started 26 of 57 games as a rookie. His progress has been steady since then, right up to his huge start to the 2018-19 season. Last season, LeVert elevated his numbers to 12.1 points and 4.2 assists per game, showing a growing range as a playmaker.
He opened this year in a rush, matching his career high with 27 points against the Detroit Pistons on opening night and then topping that with 28 points and a game-winner against the New York Knicks in the home opener two nights later.
On the four-game road trip that ended in Minnesota, LeVert scored 26 points in a win at Phoenix, then delivered his second game-winner of the season on Friday night in Denver.
He’s leading the Nets with 18.4 points per game while also averaging 4.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game
“Caris has been the heart of our team,” said Joe Harris after the game on Monday night. “The amount of work that he’s put in to this point, his attitude never wavered from the moment he’s gotten in here. He’s been just as good of a person as he is a ballplayer, even better person as a matter of fact.”