Caris LeVert’s sophomore season was so impressive that it was tough to appreciate how good it really was until the season was finished.
We seemed to spend more time worrying about whether LeVert would regress or if his surprising play would hold up for an entire season. It did and LeVert reached double figures in 13 of 14 games down the stretch in Big Ten play, helping Michigan to an outright Big Ten crown. By the end of the year, LeVert was one of the best guards in the Big Ten if not the country.
Expectations for LeVert entering the season were low. He played sparingly as a freshman, weighed about 160 pounds and was a late recruiting addition that seemingly came out of nowhere. There were flashes of impressive play – a big game against Michigan State and timely production in the NCAA tournament – but LeVert was never expected to emerge as an All-Big Ten caliber guard as quickly as he did in 2013-14.
He finished his sophomore season with averages of 13 points, four rebounds and three assists per game, replacing Tim Hardaway Jr.’s production on the wing more effectively than anyone could have imagined. His dynamic cross over dribble and hesitation moves allowed him to get in the lane with ease, but it was his surprisingly efficient three-point jumper that made him so great as a sophomore.
- Shooting: LeVert made just 28 field goals as a freshman and managed a 38.8 effective field goal percentage. There was little if any reason to believe that he’d emerge as such a reliable sniper as a sophomore. LeVert was 60-of-147 from three-point range last year (41%) and his shooting seemed to improve as the season wore on – he shot 47% from three in the NCAA tournament, he shot 44% in Big Ten games (5th best in the league). From January 23rd onward, LeVert shot 64% on all of his catch-and-shoot attempts. Despite being best known for his length and driving ability, LeVert was one of the best shooters in the Big Ten
- Isolation Dribble Drive: LeVert’s ability to score off of isolation drives was among the best in the Big Ten and the country last season. Michigan scored 1.144 points per possession on LeVert’s isolation sets (including passes), which ranks in the 94th percentile nationally. Among conference players that ran at least 50 ISOs last season, only one player (Bronson Koenig) was more efficient than LeVert and only Yogi Ferrell and Traevon Jackson scored more points in ISO situations.
- Transition: LeVert was a very good transition scorer (he loved left wing threes in transition), but he was also a great setup man in transition. LeVert’s assist to turnover ratio was 3.6:1 in transition compared to just 1.4:1 in half court offense. While his half court passing was pedestrian, his transition assist-to-turnover ratio was fourth best in the Big Ten. Michigan runs selectively, but LeVert allows the Wolverines to be dangerous when they do.
Room for Improvement
- Mid-Range Game: LeVert is a consistent mid-range jumper and floater away from being a truly dominant player. His shooting efficiency inside the arc reduces significantly from his long range prowess and he’s also still developing as an off the dribble shooter (33.5 eFG%, 36th percentile per Synergy). LeVert shot 35% or worse on all jump shots inside the arc, a figure that he’ll look to improve next season.
- Defensive Discipline: LeVert generally guarded the opposition’s best perimeter player last season. At times he showed that he has all of the tools to be a shut down defender, but other times he seemed to slip in and out of games and had the tendency to give up buckets in a hurry. Pinpointing a reason for LeVert’s up and down defensive play is difficult, but with another young roster his defensive improvements will be critical.
Ball Screen Maturity: LeVert is great at creating offense for himself, but there’s room for him to improve in the ball screen game. A quarter of his offensive possessions last season were ball screens but he graded out in just the 59th percentile nationally. That’s not bad by any means, but his .893 points per possession are a ways off from Nik Stauskas (1.101 PPP, 94th percentile) andTrey Burke (1.045 PPP, 91st percentile in recent seasons. That’s grading on a ridiculous curve, but the bar has been set high.
Shining Moment: LeVert had many high points during the year, but he single-handedly took over the game in the first half against Michigan State in Ann Arbor.
There’s no arguing about LeVert’s sophomore season: he was terrific. He surpassed every reasonable expectation and seemed to carry Michigan whenever Nik Stauskas faltered.
The bigger question is what’s next for Caris LeVert? He will no longer be option 1b to Stauskas’s 1a and he’ll have to deal with defenses designed to shut him down. Dribble drive players are rarely the most efficient players and LeVert may have surpassed expectations as a shooter last year. Alex Cook’s player comparisons point toward some sort of regression as a junior and LeVert is sidelined this summer after undergoing foot surgery. Is LeVert due for a disappointing junior season?
It’s a reasonable question, but at this point it’s difficult to doubt the player development in Michigan’s program. LeVert’s sophomore year was unique because he was able to be a very efficient player, despite relying on isolation play to get a large portion of his offense. At times last season it seemed like John Beilein and his staff were learning new things that LeVert could do each day as the season wore on. With an offseason to devise new schemes as Michigan’s featured guard, LeVert should be poised for a big junior year as Beilein designs an offense around him.