The Nets Would be Foolish to Trade Caris LeVert for Jimmy Butler

LeVert is about to blow up.

by Michael Pina
Nov 2 2018, 2:00pm

Screen capture via NBC Sports

The below has been excerpted from this week's Outlet Pass, to get caught up on everything else you need to know in the NBA this week read the rest of the column here.

What's the over/under on career All-Star games for Caris LeVert? 0.5?

I asked a few people this question throughout the week, and without much hesitation almost everyone took the over. I’m not sure the question is that easy, but I’d have to agree. Healthy LeVert is very good and has flaunted the characteristics of a building block for a Brooklyn Nets organization that hasn’t seen one of those since...I honestly don’t know.

Before his four-point dud against the New York Knicks on Monday night, a dozen players were averaging at least 21 points, four assists, and five rebounds per game. Eleven of them were stars: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Russell Westbrook, Victor Oladipo, Damian Lillard, Nikola Jokic, James Harden, Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis, and Joel Embiid. No. 12 was LeVert, who’s 24 years old with 44 career starts. Yes, those numbers come from a five or six-game sample size, but none of it feels fluky. Last night, LeVert finished with 19 points, six rebounds, and six assists in Brooklyn’s one-point win over the Detroit Pistons. He was a team-high +13 and generally did whatever he wanted to do.

Operating in lineups that have tons of shooting mixed with players who space the floor in different ways (AKA the undeterrable lob threat who is Jarrett Allen), LeVert has spent the season just sort of getting where he wants. As the league gets faster and faster, Brooklyn has embraced the tepid tempo LeVert seems to favor. He can bolt up the floor when need be, but prefers to box inside a phonebooth, with daring step backs, hypnotic in-and-out dribbles, and a reservoir of merciless shoulder/ball/head fakes in tight quarters.

He can really pass, really score, and has the body to defend multiple positions. But the first thing that jumps out when you watch him for an entire game is how easy he makes driving to the basket look. (Driving through multiple layers of NBA-level defense is not easy.) Only Kemba Walker and DeMar DeRozan have scored more baskets on drives this season; LeVert’s all-around scoring numbers in this category are more impressive than Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Donovan Mitchell, LeBron James, and just about everyone else. It’s very early, but this is still wild.

LeVert’s mid-air body control doesn’t even make sense sometimes, and contact made by a defender has virtually no impact on his soft touch. It’s almost like a larger, much-less-flashy version of Kyrie Irving. But what really separates LeVert from others is his restraint:

LeVert still has both feet on the ground when Kevon Looney leaps for the block, then releases his shot after Looney’s fingertips fall below the ball. It’s magic, and also might not even be the most impressive thing about him. When a role player seemingly morphs into a star overnight, what you have is someone who already knows how to do the little things. Instead of pouting when the ball isn’t in their hands, they cut and screen. They understand how to impact winning without directly affecting the box score. The prototype example is Jimmy Butler, who’s spent his prime as a diamond-encrusted Swiss army knife.

LeVert is not Butler, but he thinks through the game in a similar way. On the offensive end, they both make the most of every situation, and that includes gliding with purpose off the ball.

My favorite LeVert play can be seen below. It happened in secondary transition, after the Nets ran off a Pelicans miss. Once things settled into the half court, LeVert surveyed the floor from the left wing and saw that Allen had E’Twaun Moore on the right block. What happens next is a thing of beauty:

You can learn a ton about who LeVert is by watching that one sequence. His anticipation, speed, aggressiveness, and intelligence are all on display. He directs D’Angelo Russell to feed the mismatch and then, knowing his man will be momentarily distracted by his own help responsibilities, sprints into the lane and draws a foul.

LeVert is shooting below 30 percent from beyond the arc, but he’s over 80 percent from the free-throw line and has a release that’s fast (and funky) enough to be optimistic about his long-term range; when/if he starts making enough threes to prevent defenders from ducking under the screen, watch out.

LeVert’s hot start feels like it came out of nowhere, but fellow Nets who worked out with him during the summer aren’t surprised. This section began by calling him a building block. He’ll make $1.7 million this season and $2.6 million in 2020. After that, if an extension isn’t agreed upon, LeVert will enter restricted free agency and be set to sign a massive offer sheet. Until then, he’s Brooklyn’s best player and juiciest trade asset. (The Nets would be foolish to include him in a trade for Butler.)

How much he’ll cost the Nets is hard to say, but nothing about his current success suggests there’ll be any drop in production before that next contract is due. If LeVert and the Nets can agree to an extension this time next year, all the better. If not, it’ll be interesting to see how high his stock climbs throughout this season, and how it impacts Brooklyn’s ability to sign marquee free agents (smart wings who can score and pass are fun to play with).

Nothing against Thaddeus Young, who Brooklyn dealt to Indiana for LeVert back in 2016, but that will probably go down as the most favorably lopsided transaction in recent Nets history. They finally caught a break.

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