Michigan guard Caris LeVert is coming back for his senior year and suddenly the Wolverine roster looks very capable of competing in a Big Ten conference that seems to improve by the day.
LeVert’s junior season never quite lived up to expectations. He showed signs of rust with his jumpshot early on and it took time for him to gel with his new teammates, and also his new role as Michigan’s primary offensive creator. He was no longer Nik Stauskas’s sidekick, instead he was called upon to carry the load — without much help.
LeVert led Michigan in every traditional statistic at the time he went down with his injury — points, rebounds, assists, blocks, etc. — but the Wolverines were also only 11-7 on the season and LeVert’s efficiency numbers were underwhelming. He was shooting just 43% on twos, had an offensive rating of 101.1 — a dramatic decrease from last year’s 111.7 — and the Wolverine offense was struggling to score.
There were many times during the first few months of the season where it looked like Michigan’s offensive plan was to give the ball to LeVert and hope he can make a play. After touting the nation’s best offense for the past two seasons, the lack of offensive flow and balance was jarring. Leading up to his injury LeVert had shown signs of improvement as some of his supporting pieces meshed alongside him, but the season-ending foot injury cut that short.
Isolation Play: LeVert continues to be one of the best isolation players in the Big Ten and in the country. He shined in the isolation game as a sophomore, oftentimes leading Michigan’s offense when opponents focused on Nik Stauskas, and continued to excel in his ability to score off the bounce from the perimeter. He scored 1.167 points per possession (including passes) in isolation situations as a junior which was good for the 94th percentile nationally. LeVert doesn’t always get to the basket, but he has a slithery handle which allows him to create space in one-on-one situations.
Catch and Shoot: LeVert noted that one of the areas he wants to improve this offseason is with his jumpshot, but the 6-foot-7 guard was still very good in catch and shoot scenarios as a junior. He tallied a 59 eFG% on catch and shoot jumpers, but didn’t have nearly as many catch and shoot chances as he did the previous season when he was playing alongside Nik Stauskas. With a more balanced offense in 2016, LeVert should have more chances to catch-and-shoot.
Rebounding: LeVert grabbed 4.9 rebounds per game as a junior, a very impressive rebounding total for a guard. For a team and program that has struggled to rebound the ball consistently, and still has a very young frontcourt, LeVert’s ability to snag defensive rebounds was vital for the Wolverines.
Room for Improvement:
Mid-Range: According to Shot Analytics,LeVert shot just 33% on mid-range attempts despite 38% of his field goal attempts coming in the mid-range. He’s adept at creating that shot attempt, but he simply couldn’t make them as a junior. In fact, he struggled with the same shot as a sophomore as well. Given his length, average strength and impressive ability to create space, making these mid-range shots at a more-efficient rate needs to be at the top of his laundry list of improvements this offseason.
Pick and Roll Feel: Michigan has become known for its ball screen offense over the last several years with Darius Morris, Trey Burke and Nik Stauskas all excelling in the pick-and-roll game, but when LeVert was healthy he was never able to get comfortable in the pick-and-roll game.
Michigan scored just .73 points per possession (including passes) when Caris LeVert initiated ball screen offense – good for just the 28th percentile nationally.
The ball seemed to stick with LeVert on ball screens – he passed on a roughly average 40% of them – and he almost always seemed to settle for off-the-dribble jumpshots rather than being more aggressive. The key for LeVert is finding that balance of passing to the roll man, cutters or shooters on the wings, rather than turning the high ball screen into a glorified isolation situation.
Shooting off the Dribble: According to Synergy Sports, LeVert had just a 29% eFG% in off-the-dribble jump shooting situations. Shooting off the dribble isn’t an easy skill, but it’s something that’s vitally important to LeVert’s game, and Michigan’s ball screen offense in general. Nik Stauskas and Trey Burke were two of the country’s best off the dribble shooters, which made them nearly impossible to defend off the high ball screen.
Shining Moment: Arguably LeVert’s best individual performance came in Michigan’s most disappointing showing of the season, a home loss to NJIT. Instead we’ll go with his timely scoring late in Michigan’s win over Minnesota early in the Big Ten season.
Quotable: “We love coaching Caris and are excited he has decided to come back for his final season,” John Beilein said in a statement announcing LeVert’s return. “His injury last season was unfortunate, but he never wavered in his commitment as a leader, a student or with his rehabilitation. Caris is a special person both on and off the court and we are proud of what he has accomplished. The best is yet to come for a young man like Caris LeVert.”
It’s tough to grade LeVert’s junior season because he only played 17 games, but also because there are so many mixed signals. He was certainly Michigan’s most-productive player, but he also had disappointing efficiency numbers and the Wolverines lost a lot of games.
LeVert is projected as a first round pick in 2016, but by opting to return to school he steps into potentially even bigger expectations than he faced last season. The Wolverines will have a much better core around LeVert than they did for the first 17 games of 2014-15, but they’ll also need a stronger performance from him to compete for a Big Ten Championship.
Opting to return for his senior year opens LeVert up to a whole new world of expectations. On an individual level, he’s playing to try to make the lottery next June. But even more importantly, as a rare senior in the Michigan lineup, he’s going to be called upon to be a leader. That’s going to be an adjustment in itself for LeVert, who has always been known to lead-by-example, but it’s one that he’s ready to embrace.
“I think we have a lot of potential coming back, but potential is a dangerous word,” LeVert said earlier this week. “Going after those goals and going after those expectations will be a challenge.
“I’m coming back to win games, to get my degree and be happy.”