The Brooklyn Nets started their draft night early this year, opting to trade veteran PF Thaddeus Young for the #20 overall pick and a future second-round draft choice. Young was a solid starter for Brooklyn, and his work ethic and calm confidence will certainly be missed in the Brooklyn locker room. However, the Nets traded him at close to the peak of his value, picking up a first-round pick from a Pacers team that will look very different next year after trading for both Jeff Teague and Young. Noted developmental coach Kenny Atkinson will have his work cut out for him in molding Caris LeVert and Isaiah Whitehead at the beginning of their NBA careers, but they both will help Brooklyn build towards a return to the playoffs. Additionally, both will likely be given playing time and a vote of confidence in the years to come.
Caris LeVert was a four-year starter at Michigan and can step into the Nets’ rotation on Day 1 ready to contribute. A 6’7” combo guard, LeVert fits both of Brooklyn’s greatest positional needs through his ability to handle the ball as a point guard while also having more than enough size to play the off-guard in the NBA. Despite low game totals in his last two years due to injury, Caris is a great 3-point shooter with a decent handle and above-average athleticism. His highlight reel at Michigan shows both the fluidity of his game and his solid jump shot:
Source: YouTube, JustBombs Productions (Video clips courtesy of the NCAA)
LeVert played both guard positions in college and certainly has the ability to do so in the NBA as well, but he may spend more time at the 2-guard since his greatest strength in college was his catch-and-shoot jump shooting. LeVert shot a blistering 45% from beyond the arc in his senior season and coupled that with 53.3% shooting on 2-pointers as well. He isn’t yet a great shooter off the dribble, but he can spot up around Brook Lopez post-ups and pick-and-rolls. If he works on his dribbling and his shooting off the dribble, he could definitely do some damage on the offensive end. While his mediocre lateral quickness and small frame may hurt him defensively, LeVert was a decent defensive player in college. His size should allow him to capably guard anyone from point guard through small forward. LeVert is more than large enough to defend opposing guards at both the point and the off-guard. Furthermore, his 6.6 assists per 40 minutes against just 2.1 turnovers per 40 minutes (both stats adjusted for pace and courtesy of DraftExpress) show a remarkable passing touch, especially from a player who is unlikely to be a full-time point guard in the NBA. His height and good decision-making allow him to make passes that help his teammates all over the floor, and with his shooting touch, he should be able to run deadly pick-and-rolls with Brook Lopez next season.
Caris LeVert’s greatest weakness in his college days was his spotty injury history. LeVert broke his left foot during his junior season, and then injured his left leg during his senior year. The Michigan staff were quite confident that the left leg injury was unrelated to his foot injury the year before, but both injuries have been known to slow players down in the past. Since LeVert does not excel at moving laterally, any injury that might rob him of some speed could have a huge effect on his game. Luckily, LeVert is quite young for a senior (still 21 years old, he is younger than some of the juniors in this draft). Additionally, LeVert announced in a recent Player’s Tribune article that his surgeon (Dr. Martin O’Malley, who also operated on Kevin Durant’s foot last year) told him that the CT scans and X-rays came back clean. An NBA strength training program should be able to help him recover from and healthily compensate for his foot and leg injuries, which he can hopefully leave behind him as he transitions to the professional ranks.
During the draft, Brooklyn traded the 55th pick and cash considerations to Utah for their 42nd pick: Brooklyn native Isaiah Whitehead. I talked at some length about Isaiah Whitehead in my preview of potential choices for the 55th pick, and Whitehead also helps Brooklyn cover their weakness in the backcourt to some degree. Whitehead will need to work on his finishing around the rim to have a long-term NBA role, but his passing talent is rare for players at the off-guard position, and he already has a decent 3-point jumper. Furthermore, his solid size will help him develop on the defensive end. While he also lacks amazing lateral quickness like LeVert, Whitehead was much more able to create looks for himself off the dribble in college, and that will help him grow into a secondary ball-handler for a Nets team that will be looking for solid dribblers after the Deron Williams and Joe Johnson buyouts left them with a big hole in their guard rotation.
Thaddeus Young was a solid starter for Brooklyn during his time on the Nets, and he will certainly be missed going forward. However, the Nets need to find and develop young talent wherever they can, and Caris LeVert fills in a couple of serious needs for a Nets team in need of good guard play in the years to come. Isaiah Whitehead will also help the Nets with his combo guard skill-set, and LeVert and Whitehead could form a potentially dangerous rookie backcourt. Sean Marks has given Kenny Atkinson and the Nets two young players with a lot of potential; time will tell if they can make their mark in Brooklyn, but both have a good chance at being key pieces for the Nets in 2016-2017 and beyond.