Caris LeVert’s injury obviously has massive ramifications for Michigan’s current season, but it also throws a wrench into his personal plans.
LeVert, who underwent surgery for his fractured foot this afternoon, has been projected as a first round draft pick by the majority of draft outlets throughout the season. He also submitted his name to the NBA Draft Advisory Committee for evaluation at the end of last season.
Now the questions that everyone wants answered are: a) What does LeVert’s injury mean for his draft stock? b) What will he do?
We won’t know the answer to the second question until April, but we can take a shot at evaluating the first question. Most mock drafts and analysts still have LeVert projected as a late-first round pick and even as a late lottery pick.
Entering this season, many expected that LeVert was right on the fringe of the lottery. At this juncture, he appears to be more comfortably in the second half of the first round, with a possibility of sliding up or down.
ESPN’s Chad Ford writes that while LeVert had the chance to play himself into a lottery pick this season, he probably didn’t do that and a recurring foot injury isn’t going to help.
The question is, will he declare? Some NBA scouts and teams had him ranked as high as the late lottery earlier in the season. By the time of his injury, LeVert was No. 29.
He had an up-and-down season. Some of that is on Michigan. He was asked to lead a weak supporting class. Some of that was on LeVert. As talented as he is, he didn’t seem to thrive as the primary option on the team. In short, after becoming one of the most improved players in the country last year, he didn’t take the leap scouts expected this season. His chances of being a lottery pick in the 2015 draft look pretty slim.
However, if he’s content to fall somewhere between 25-35, there will be a lot of interest. LeVert is an NBA talent — a wing who can see the floor and shoot the ball. Assuming he’s healthy enough to compete in pre-draft workouts, he still should land somewhere in the late first to early second round. There just aren’t many guards in the draft with his skill set.
The Sporting News talked to an infamous ‘anonymous NBA scout’ for an opinion on LeVert and came to the startling conclusion that doctors might need to examine LeVert.
“He had a chance to be a lottery pick, I think,” one scout told Sporting News. “He can shoot the ball, there is no question about that. But now, an injury like this one that keeps coming back, that’s a pretty big red flag. If he comes out, his stock is hurt. He might be a second-rounder, like (Detroit draftee Spencer) Dinwiddie. You don’t know until your doctors check him out.”
CBS Sports’ Sam Vecenie went in-depth with 1900 words and seven GIFs to analyze LeVert’s game. He came off on the positive side, writing that LeVert still has the tools to be a first-rounder, even with the injury and a somewhat disappointing junior season.
If the foot checks out, I see LeVert as a fairly safe prospect that also has some upside. The safe aspect of LeVert comes from the fact that we know he’s already a great shooter, a good ball-handler for a 2-guard, and a solid decision maker and passer. Those three things alone — along with his size and NBA-ready frame — can make him a really strong, solid backup scorer for quite a few years. However, if he can develop on the defensive end and/or become a stronger, more willing slasher, there’s a chance (albeit small) that he could become one of the better players in this draft.
Given the relative safety of his game and potential upside, I feel pretty good about slotting him in the top 20 on my big board until we know if this injury has potential be recurring. Now comes the waiting game, and seeing if he wants to go pro this season.
By the numbers
I think it would be fair to call LeVert’s junior season a bit of a disappointment, but there are a number of clear explanations and reasons to point to.
The obvious one is that he wasn’t surrounded by as much talent and hasn’t been able to dominate and facilitate the offense as well as the two All-Americans before him. The idea was always that he’d have a little help, and frankly speaking he didn’t have much.
Similar to Tim Hardaway Jr.’s freshman season, LeVert also went through a torrid shooting stretch from February to March. He was teed up with some great catch-and-shoot looks all season by Nik Stauskas and in the middle of the Big Ten season, LeVert barely missed. That might have magnified his stock a bit, but even this season he shot 38% on triples.
After making an incredible leap from his freshman to sophomore season, LeVert also didn’t improve on some of the areas of his game that were most important. Namely, his ability to score in the mid-range.
He generally doesn’t have the strength to get all the way to the rim and that means that the mid-range shot is a giant part of his arsenal. LeVert takes a ton of mid-range jumpers and doesn’t make many. That was the case as a sophomore and it was magnified as a junior when LeVert took 39% of his field goals in the mid-range. The following charts from Shot Analytics do a good job of demonstrating LeVert’s trouble zones:
- Catch and shoot: For the last two years, LeVert has been a terrific catch and shoot player. This year he had a 59% eFG% on catch and shoot opportunities, down from a ridiculous 67.9 eFG% last year. He’s had fewer catch and shoot opportunities, but his three-point jump shot has been pure for the last three years.
- Versatility: The NBA might be moving toward specialists (i.e three-and-d) in many roles, but LeVert is one of the more well rounded guards in the country. He’s not the best defender (although there’s untapped potential there) or the best rebounder, but there’s something to be said for a player that leads his team in every statistical category.
- Isolation: LeVert continues to be better without a ball screen. He scored 1.11 points per isolation set (including passes) this season, which grades out in the 88th percentile nationally. His ability to break down his man off the dribble is a skill that will translate to any level.
- Off the dribble shooting: LeVert had just a 27.8 eFG% on off the dribble jumpers, a stat which ranks in the 22nd percentile nationally despite a high number (72) of attempts. LeVert’s game has become increasingly more dependent on the off the dribble jumper as last season 29% of his possessions were catch and shoot and 27% were off the dribble. This year, 26% are catch and shoot and 44% are off the dribble.
- Pick and roll efficiency: LeVert graded out in just the 28th percentile nationally in pick-and-roll offense (including passes) according to Synergy Sports. This was probably the most disappointing element of his progression if only because the Wolverines have been so proficient with their ball screen offense over the past four seasons.
Overall, it was a tough year for Caris LeVert. He had to sit out the whole summer with a foot injury and never seemed to be able to find the consistency that we saw down the stretch last season. LeVert also didn’t have the type of support that he needed and that left him put in a tricky spot.
So even while many of his numbers plateaued or regressed from his sophomore season, the explanations are fairly straightforward. It’s tough to disagree with the notion that LeVert has a skillset that will thrive in the NBA. He’s 6-foot-7, he can handle it and he’s a great catch and shoot guard. His ability to create off of the dribble is impressive, even if he needs to continue to get stronger and improve on his middle game. If NBA scouts think he’s going to be a first round pick, it would be impossible to blame him for going to get paid.
On the other hand, there are also plenty of reasons for LeVert to return. He’s only 20 years old and will be 21 when he graduates college which means age isn’t the same sort of factor that it was for someone like Mitch McGary, who was 22 when he was drafted last spring. It’s impossible to know how LeVert’s foot will recover and perform during the stringent medical examination — John Beilein says the injury shouldn’t affect him at all going forward — involved in the NBA Draft process.
Michigan returns almost its entire roster and the opportunity would be there for LeVert to help redeem a fairly disappointing season to date. He would have a pretty clear check list of what he needed to improve upon to boost his draft stock and he’s proven before that he’s capable of a dramatic off-season leap.
The decision will be a difficult one, but after three great years at Michigan – LeVert has earned the right to make either choice.