Brooklyn Nets: Moving forward after the Caris LeVert injury

Just as things were getting interesting for Caris LeVert and the Brooklyn Nets, the basketball gods had other ideas in mind.

I guess it would’ve been too easy this way. Just as Brooklyn Nets swingman Caris LeVert was gaining recognition around the league, he suffered a horrific foot injury on Monday night. The team’s MVP up to this point is suddenly out of the picture.

For the faint of heart, let’s preface this catastrophe. Against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night, LeVert collided with rookie guard Josh Okogie. As he fell, LeVert’s ankle twisted in a way that no person should have to see. The entire Target Center felt a sickness overtake it, and action stopped for several minutes as LeVert was carried out on a stretcher.

Although the timetable is not set in stone, a report from The Athletic‘s Shams Charania claims that he can come back this season:

There’s really no way to sugarcoat it; LeVert was torching the league, and actually had the Nets in position to win over 35 games. Averaging 18.4 points per game on 47.5 percent shooting from the field, he was the alpha this team needed.

While D’Angelo Russell scored 31 points and made nine 3s on Monday, he’s still not carving up defenses the way Brooklyn needs him to. Of course his shooting is valuable, but he needs to open up his penetration game more. If he’s going to earn a big contract next summer, he needs to be more than just a shooter.

Meanwhile, Spencer Dinwiddie won’t be bothered by a heavier workload. Anyone who watched the 2017-18 season knows he’ll gladly take that spotlight, with several game-winning performances to boot. Conversely to Russell though, Dinwiddie mostly creates for himself and others as opposed to catch-and-shoot opportunities.

That might work in Brooklyn’s favor, just not in the way many expected. Russell is supposed to be that alpha who can get a bucket with ease, while Dinwiddie is supposed to help make the offense flow around him. Or so we thought.

If these two can coexist in newly-found roles while shouldering a bit more usage, this pairing could work. The metrics to date do not support that though, as the Nets are being outscored by 21.6 points per 100 possessions when Dinwiddie and Russell share the floor.

The main issue with this pairing is the defense. Neither of them is exactly Tony Allen, although they both check the effort box. Neither one is quite as athletic or long as LeVert either, and giving Shabazz Napier more minutes won’t patch up these holes. Adding Theo Pinson to the mix could spice things up, but inexperienced guards typically don’t defend well.

The hope is for Russell and Dinwiddie to break down defenses, get teammates good shots, and make enough 3-pointers to counteract defensive concerns. With head coach Kenny Atkinson emphasizing floor-spacing at four of the five positions, the latter goal should be easiest to achieve. This team has firepower; it’s just a matter of dialing it up.

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LeVert’s absence will be felt; he covered for a lot of the flaws with lead ball-handlers on this squad. Now we get to see what Dinwiddie and Russell are made of, barring another calamity (*knocks on wood*).

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