Off to a great start to the 2018-19 season, Brooklyn Nets forward Caris LeVert is already giving the league reason to believe he could take home this year’s Most Improved Player of the Year Award.
If you have been watching the Brooklyn Nets through their first 11 games of the season, you’ve probably already noticed that this year’s Nets team looks different than in recent years. Not only are they competing and playing hard, they are winning.
With only one extra win this season (5-6) compared to where they were this time last year (4-7), the difference can be found in the final scores. In the first 11 games of the 2017-18 season, Brooklyn only had one double-digit win, while losing by 10 or more in three games for a total plus/minus of -51. This season has been good for three double-digit victories (including a statement game against the Philadelphia 76ers), two double-digit losses, and a total plus/minus of +8.
An integral factor in this difference has been the growth of Caris LeVert.
LeVert already has a claim at the front of the pack in the early race for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, averaging 20.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 31.5 minutes per game. He’s also shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from 3-point range.
Only seeing 5.2 more minutes of action per game compared to last season, he is becoming more comfortable with his game, and he has found his role as the leading scorer on this team.
His spike in scoring isn’t just a product of added playing time. LeVert is tallying 6.8 more points than he did during his sophomore campaign — on an additional 3.7 attempts — per 36 minutes. Just as impressive as his scoring is how efficiently he is doing it. LeVert’s 49.1 percent shooting overall places him seventh among both league small forwards and shooting guards, and moves him up from the 43.5 percent he shot last season.
His bread and butter has been shooting within 10 feet of the bucket. His scoring from this range has seen notable improvement and his numbers this season seat him at the top of the league. When shooting less than five feet away from the rim, Caris is converting 59.7 percent of the time on 77 attempts so far this season. Last year, he shot 57.3 percent while averaging only 38.6 attempts per 11 games. The only guards to shoot better from that range this season with at least 70 attempts are Ben Simmons and Zach LaVine.
His shooting from the 5-9 feet range is even more impressive, where he is seeing 54.5 percent of his shots fall (22 attempts). That’s a drastic increase from his shooting last year of 36.3 percent on 10.7 attempts per 11 games. His numbers this year are good for second-best among all league players with at least 20 attempts, behind only DeMar DeRozan.
Caris LeVert may not be an elite 3-point shooter, but he more than makes do. The 24-year-old is shooting a respectable 35.3 percent on the season, improving from 34.7 percent last season and 32.1 percent his rookie year.
Brooklyn is currently averaging the fifth-highest 3-point attempts in the league and LeVert is showing he isn’t afraid to let them fly. With his attacking game as dangerous a threat to defenders as it is, it creates opportunities for him to leave whoever is guarding him on skates as they give up good perimeter looks, hoping to keep him from driving the lane at will.
LeVert’s numbers aren’t just empty numbers either. He isn’t just scoring like a mad man while his team gets blown out. The Brooklyn Nets are actually winning games and he is an essential part to their success. His Player Efficiency Rating of 20.6 gives him the highest mark on his team (just above Jarrett Allen) and helps factor in the intangibles that players like him and Allen contribute to team success.
With the Nets eyeing a playoff spot as the season goes on, continued effort like what LeVert is giving will be a necessity to maximize this young team’s potential — another sign that he has taken a dramatic leap forward and has become one of the most improved players in the league.