Draft Watch: Evaluating Caris LeVert’s draft stock

Dylan Burkhardt
on

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:

image

The good

  • 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.

The bad

  • 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.

Bottom Line

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.

  • Mattski

    “There just aren’t many guards in the draft with his skill set.” This guy remains a good bet to produce significantly in the NBA. And if he is intent on basketball, that could be the concluding factor. His mom and family will have something to say about that.

    I see Caris as a significantly better basketball player with another 20 pound of muscle on his bones. And he could be a real star for an improved Michigan next year. The situation may also depend on how incoming players figure to complement or compete for his minutes/shots.

    Thanks for this great analysis.

    • robpollard

      Agreed on this analysis.

      I would be shocked if he comes back. If he injures himself a 3rd time while he’s at U of M? Esp considering that this latest injury was non-contact (i.e., he didn’t have an anvil fall on it; there seems to be some bad luck with the foot). All bets are off on where he would get drafted.

      It is much safer to declare and go with the reasonable hope he gets drafted in the 20s, a la THJ.

      I hope he comes back, but unless something else comes up, it would seem easily more prudent for his bank account and career to go pro now.

      • A2MIKE

        You are only looking at it from one angle, what if he gets hurt. But what if he comes back, goes to Camp Sanderson and blossoms ala Burke and Stauskas. The difference between guaranteed lottery and fringe first round. He would easily make more on his first contract than the opportunity cost of next year and a first contract as a late first rounder. It all depends on the mindset. If he is worried about getting hurt, he should go pro. If he thinks he can take another leap in his game and be an All American, he should come back. I personally think the sky is the limit for him and he could come back and be every bit as good as Stauskas last year and push for first team All American. Just depends on if he wants to bet on himself or bet on the injury.

        • robpollard

          I’m just looking at it from the risk/reward angle.

          – He comes back:
          1) He kicks butt, stays injury-free and as a result, goes #11 in the lottery
          2) He does fine, stays injury-free and as a result, goes late first round/early second
          3) He gets injured again — likely doesn’t get drafted (though perhaps at the very end)

          – He doesn’t come back:
          1) He gets drafted — goes late first round/early second

          The way I see it, it is far more risky to come back to college (considering his injury history) and play 30+ games next year, along with practices, without getting paid — all for the chance of improving your draft stock perhaps 10-15 places.

          Again, I hope he comes back. It would be great for the team, and I assume being in college is an enjoyable and rewarding experience for him. But it is definitely the more risky course of action and not one I would take or expect him to.

          • Nick

            You forgot 4) Graduates from one of the best schools in the county

          • A2MIKE

            great point.

          • arete

            I would be very ashamed to claim UM as “one of the best schools in the” count[r]y after the fraternity/sorority vandalism in resorts up-north.

          • robpollard

            You can always go back and get your degree. He is (to paraphrase Cardale Jones) at UM to play basketball, which will be his chosen profession once he leaves UM, with or without a degree. Getting his degree now/next year should not be a factor for him — he has the chance to make tens of millions of dollars in pro ball, and he needs to figure out the best path to do that.

            Look at Ty Wheatley (to pick just one of many examples) — he earned his bachelor’s from MI in 2008. He did pretty well in life. Same with Jalen Rose.

          • A2MIKE

            I understand your point. However, I don’t see it as nearly as risky as you do. Even in scenario 2, Caris is a lock for the first round, has a degree from Michigan. Remember he is only 20 now and would only be 21 when drafted next year, which is a huge benefit to him and a small reason why I think he might return. I can definitely understand going pro, but unless he gets a guarantee, it could be another Darius Morris/Manny Harris type situation, where a team feels a lot less obligated to keep you. In my opinion, as long as he stays healthy next year he is a guaranteed first rounder. If he goes pro this year, it will depend a lot on how his combine goes, and if it goes poorly, he will probably slide to the 2nd round. I just think the bigger risk is this year on the unknown, rather than next year on getting hurt.

      • Anonymous

        Why would an NBA team draft a guy with the same injury in less than a year?
        Come on guys. If you were an NBA GM, would you draft a player with the same FOOT injury in less than a year. Don’t tell me what you would say publicly but privately when the draft occurs, what would you do?
        I know what you would do which is draft a similar guy without any prior injuries. People are being way way too nice. LeVert will not go in the 1st round because it’s too big of a risk.
        One last thing, why is it a big risk? Because its on the foot. Basketball is running and jumping on your legs and feet. This isn’t about a guy who broke his left wrist.

        • Why would a team draft Mitch McGary in the first round when he had a bad back, a leg issue the summer before his freshman year, an injury issue his final season of prep school and was facing a half-year suspension for a failed drug test.

          Same answer: because they loved his potential.

          • Anonymous

            Correct. Point taken. However none of these issues facing McGary were
            a. repetitive
            b. marijuana (minor offense)
            All that being said, McGary got his ailment resolved with surgery and had enough time to prove he would have no re-occurring issues but he also had another issue this NBA season. Goes to show you the injury prone players are a problem.
            With LeVert, he wasn’t highly touted like McGary but again, most importantly, his issue is on his foot (big problem) which absorbs most of the physical impact in basketball and while he is still developing. Plus, broke foot now twice in a short period of time on the same foot. The same foot.
            Comparing apples to oranges. Let’s go pick a few guys with foot problems.
            Walton.
            Bowie. Foot?
            Anybody drafting LeVert is asking for problems. I wouldn’t touch LeVert until the 2nd round (good risk) who is still a question mark with his size and performance.
            Let me ask you this. If a player got two DUI’s would you make the assumption he is an alcoholic? If a player got two breaks of his foot would you make the assumption he has a stress problem with his foot?

          • Mattski

            The question was very much whether McGary’s back issue was recurring. 100s of players with injury histories have been drafted over time, with GMs and scouts weighing potential/risk.

    • gobluemd16

      To be honest, I think none of us really know. And that includes Caris, the coaches, etc. I think a ton depends on his recovery from the injury. He had surgery yesterday and the recovery time has been reported at approximately 12 weeks. That would put him at full healthy, just with the reported timeline, in mid-April around the 15th. The early entry date is only a week or a week and a half after that, I believe. Without knowing of his health closer to that time, it is nearly impossible to predict how well he could perform in pre-draft workouts. Even if he is near perfect health in mid-April, you would have to believe he would be pretty rusty basketball-wise and may not be able to put his best foot forward in the pre-draft process. There are so many other factors, including other guard prospects emerging between now and the end of the tournament, as well. I think it was definitely in Caris’ mind that he would go pro after this season, so I do think that if he feels healthy enough and is performing well, he will go pro (which I would consider the correct decision). I just think it is too early for that determination.

  • itsjustaherb

    The NBA will always be there for Caris. The question is would he rather declare for the NBA draft and ride the bench for at least a couple of years or come back to Ann Arbor and enjoy what will be some of the best years of his life. Personally I love Michigan and I think the NBA is boring. I would much rather play for the fans of a college team than a pro team. So if it was my decision I would obviously stay in Michigan. However, if money is on his mind than he will most likely leave and go play in the NBA.

    • MAZS

      Seriously, you can’t say what you do in a similar situation. Turning down a $1 million or more as a 1st round draft pick wouldn’t be that easy for anyone. That’s real money; easier to give up when it isn’t yours. And while I am sure Caris loves Michigan (as much as you and I), unlike you, I am sure he also loves the NBA–which has probably been a lifelong goal.

      This will all play out. If he is likely to go in Round 1, he is gone. If round 2, I think he may come back–but that’s only a maybe.

      • Mattski

        Also, we have no idea what the doctors might say about his foot–maybe it’s a freak thing, heals completely, and the risk is no more than anyone’s else’s. Or maybe there’s some real risk which means he has to try to get while the getting is good. These arguments rage, but fans never hold all the variables. Even rendering judgement on whether someone “should have” left or not is often highly dubious. Who’s to say Darius Morris (etc.) isn’t having more fun in the D League or bouncing around than he was with all the pressures of school and college hoops? That’s his metier; no one looks down on most architects because they’re designing homes in the suburbs rather than skyscrapers in NY (to take one analogy).

  • AADave

    His decision whether to go pro is highly personal and depends on many variables which even Caris can’t predict.

    Given the risk of further injuries, he should probably go pro if he’s a projected first rounder. If he’s projected in the second round, it’s more complicated.

    I haven’t heard of this type of injury derailing an NBA career so I’m very optimistic. I would still think the NBA would draft him highly on potential.