Lafayette Lever Is Making a Name for Himself
He lacks the instant name recognition and four championship rings of his Los Angeles Lakers counterpart, Magic Johnson.
And at 6-foot-3, Lafayette Lever stands 6 inches shorter than the league MVP.
But amid the squeaks and shoves of the NBA floor, All-Star guard “Fat” Lever ranks among the best statistically.
Lever has become the league’s latest Mr. Versatility, sharing the title with the Lakers All-Star as the king of the “triple-double,” the latest NBA measure of player performance.
So far this season, the sixth-year player has recorded nine triple-doubles -- games in which he has reached double figures in three of the following areas: points, rebounds, assists and steals.
He has switched from point-guard to off-guard this year, but “Fat” -- a nickname tabbed to him in his youth by a younger brother who had trouble pronouncing his first name -- has continued to amass the all-around statistics that two years ago were associated only with the Los Angeles point-guard.
In a 99-81 blowout of the Cleveland Cavaliers early this month, Lever collected a career high en route to his ninth triple-double. He grabbed 20 rebounds -- including nine on offense -- to go with his 20 points and 12 assists. He added six steals for good measure.
His rebounding skills -- he led the league in rebounding by a guard last year and is currently heading this season’s list -- have astounded Denver Coach Doug Moe and Lever’s teammates.
“That’s the amazing thing about him,” said Moe. “He’ll get what we need. He is an amazing rebounder.”
Center Blair Rasmussen used the term “awesome.”
“How many guards have gotten 20 rebounds in this league? How many centers have gotten 20 rebounds in this league?” Rasmussen asked. “He’s just so versatile, so aware of where the ball is at all times.”
Last year he led the NBA with 16 triple-doubles, just two off the league mark set by Johnson in 1984. Johnson was next on this list with 11. Lever also recorded personal career highs in every statistical category but one.
His efforts were overshadowed by his team’s 37-45 record, and Lever was not invited to the All-Star contest.
The recognition has come nonetheless. He was selected for the first time to the All-Star team last month, but Lever believes the recent attention is a result of the team’s turnabout this year.
“Some people don’t get a good look when their team’s having a bad year,” he said. “This year we’re playing well, so I got the exposure.”
The Nuggets are battling the Houston Rockets for second place in the Midwest Division, trailing the Dallas Mavericks. A return to aggressive, ball-hawking defense has helped turn Denver’s fortunes around with Lever leading the team in steals.
Moe is an ardent Lever fan and believes the scrappy guard’s value is still on the rise.
“To me, Fat’s sort of like a blue chip stock. These guys keep picking these dip stocks because they say they’re down and they’ve gotta go up instead of the blue chips because they’re already up there,” Moe said. “A guy like Fat is a blue chip and he just keeps getting better.”
Last Nov. 24, Lever was two steals shy of recording a rare “quadruple-double” in a 132-104 drubbing of the New Jersey Nets. After three quarters, Lever had 21 points, 13 rebounds, 14 assists and 8 steals. But the Nuggets were comfortably ahead and Moe sat him down for the final quarter.
Lever, along with center Wayne Cooper and forward Calvin Natt, arrived in Denver before to the 1984-85 season as part of a five-player package from the Portland Trailblazers in exchange for high-scoring forward Kiki Vandeweghe.
Lever is lean and strong and can attack from all angles. He entered the league as a point-guard with the classic defensive abilities -- quick hands and strong sense of court awareness -- but since has improved tremendously on offense. He’s averaged over 18 points and nearly 8 assists a game and over the past two seasons.
He’s also modest and unassuming, although his statistics could suggest otherwise. Lever’s the kind who believes hotdogs are to be sold in the stands. And his consistency is the heart and soul of the team.
The “Fat Man” -- as his teammmates call him -- was born in Pine Bluff, Ark., and moved with his family to Tucson, Ariz., when he was in fourth grade. When it came time to choose a college, he picked Arizona State in Tempe rather than play for hometown Arizona.
“I thought about going there (Arizona), but I decided I needed to grow up,” Lever said. “I got away by going to Tempe, but I was still close enough to home in case something came up.”
He was the 11th player taken in the 1982 draft by Portland. His number was called early in his rookie year and he responded with team-high numbers in assists and steals. Two years later, Lever was in a Nuggets uniform.
Michael Adams, a waterbug-type point guard who specializes in pushing the ball up the court, came from the Washington Bullets in a preseason trade. His presence enables Lever to concentrate on rebounding and defense. “Now we’ve got a guy (Adams) who can run it up and keep Fat in the game,” Moe said.
The explosive fast-break has returned to Denver and has been a factor in this year’s success.
“Now I’m able to go in and get some rebounds, and kick it out to Mike, and get Mike to run it up the court and hit me with trailing jumpers at the end of the break,” Lever explained.
Lever’s statistics are slightly down from last season, except steals. He’s averaging 2.7 thefts a game, up from last year’s 2.4, and will break his career high for steals in a season if he continues at that pace.
“I think I’m having a good year, maybe as good as last year,” he said. “But last year we won 37 games, and if we win more games this year, like 50 or so, then I’ll be having a better year. That’s how I look at it. If we win more games, then I will be having a better year.”
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