Report Card 2015: Caris LeVert

Dylan Burkhardt

Previously: Zak Irvin Spike Albrecht, Ricky Doyle, Aubrey Dawkins, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman

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.”

Bottom Line:

Grade: Incomplete

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.”

  • jake

    If I was to grade his performance for the first half of the season I would give him a B+. He was making a big transition from role player to star and his supporting cast was non-existent at times for long stretches. He did lead the team in every stat category which says alot but then again he was expected to be a super star and he wasn’t able to be on a consistent basis. This year’s team will be MUCH deeper and he will be better conditioned than he was last year coming off that surgery. I expect big things for Levert and company for next year. Go blue!

    • JosephG

      I really hope he comes back hungry! I’m still interested to see what other 4 surround him in starting line up.

    • Mat

      Caris wasn’t exactly a role player. For most of the season he was option 1B to Nik’s 1A.

      The big change came in the frontline. Instead of McGary/Horford/Morgan/Robinson it was Bielfeldt/Dawkins/Doyle/Donnal/Chatman. Night and day.

      • jake

        I disagree with you. Levert was a role player at best his sophmore year. It was supposed to be all about GR3 and McGary remember? Then McGary got hurt and GR3 never lived up to the hype so Stauskas stepped up and took over the team and the whole big 10. Levert then became the 3rd option because GR3 was supposed to develop into a beast which in my opinion he never really did. Good kid, wish he would have stayed another year….anyways Levert never was a focus point and then last year he was expected to be that guy for the first time. I agree the Frontline help dropped off dramatically, no argument there

        • Agree that Stauskas was “the guy” but disagree with the term “role player”. LeVert was a star during Big Ten play and him stepping up was critical because the team needed a second creator when teams would lock off Stauskas.

          • jake

            I think maybe there is a miscommunication or my definition of a role player is off perhaps…ddid Levert step up huge and come out of nowhere his sophmores year? Absolutely, he became the second/third option to Stauskas and GR3. Was that expected of him his sophmores year? No way! He wasn’t even a starter at the beginning of the year. Expectations of him were coming off the bench and providing a spark for the defense but he surpassed all expectations and had a breakout year. My argument is his expectations and role as a player on the team completely changed from his sophomore to junior year and so did his teammates. Hard for anyone to adjust to that like nothing. I thought he did well this year, just wasn’t consistent as a leader from night to night. Having said all that, I love this kid and I’m so happy to have him back for one more year.

          • MAZS

            Kinda schizophrenic analysis. Let me disagree on a couple of points.

            First, Caris was a starter from day 1 his sophomore year. He started all 37 games.

            Second, as much as I believe GRIII was grossly under-appreciated at Michigan, Caris was the unquestioned #2 on the team once Mitch went down.

            Comparing the team we had when Caris was playing last year with the play of Zak, Dawkins and RAAK at the end of the year was night-and-day. Caris will fit in just fine this year; if healthy, he will be option #1.

    • psickert1

      See the game against Duke… enough said.

  • Mattski

    I don’t take it as a given that Caris plays like a superstar next year. But I do have some confidence that he is mature enough to really work to mesh with a lot of improved team members.

  • Mat

    I don’t think you can criticize him for efficiency given who he was playing with. Let’s compare primary running-mates for Stauskas and Levert:

    + Walton (FR), LeVert (SO), Robinson (SO), Morgan (SR)
    + Walton (hurt SO), Irvin (SO), Chatman/Dawkins (FR), Doyle/Donnal (FR)/Bielfeldt

    That’s a couple NBA-caliber players being replaced by inexperienced freshman.

    He went from being worry B or C to being the defense’s focus, his
    teammates were not nearly as good, his usage went up and yet… his
    efficiency didn’t plummet as much as it could have. Given the circumstances, it seems like Caris ORTG is a testament to the level of improvement in his game

    I think if Caris had stayed healthy and was around for the late season development in Zak and Aubrey, you would have seen more Nik-like production and Caris is declaring for the NBA by now. Everyone forgets it now, but Nik struggled early in his sophomore year too. Remember the Duke game, when Caris had to carry the team? By the end of the year Nik was an assasin, but it took half a year to get there. Caris never got the opportunity unfortunately. But the silver lining is he is back. That’s a great thing for Michigan and my expectations couldn’t be higher for Caris.

  • JosephG

    With or without Brown, we looking good. Deep indeed, I’m thinking perhaps Doyle , Irvin , Levert, Dawkins, and Walton/MAAR.. If MAAR does infact add some strength , he could pontentialy be Michigans most improved player. JB has some option to say the least.

    • jake

      I agree, I really like MAAR’s game. I think him and Dawkins have the highest ceilings of that class

  • Dr_ZC

    A major issue last season was defensive rebounding and boxing out by our 4 and 5 players. Both Doyle and Dawkins were guilty as charged as far as bodying out their men. If we start with Dawkins at the 4 and Ricky at the 5, we are bound to have issues, unless something changes drastically in our defensive approach. I am not sure what the newcomer bigs can do about rebounding (Wagner, Robinson and Wilson), but we were totally ineffective at the 4 and 5 as far as rebounding. We fix this, the sky is the limit for 2015-16.

    • jake

      I agree, one of my few faults with Belein is that he doesn’t recruit enough true 5s so we are almost always undersized at the 4. Half the time he’s got guards playing the 3. He usually makes it work though, I think Doyle will be much better rebounding defensively than last year. Outside of him though I’m pretty concerned…

  • bobohle

    I agree with the Incomplete grade. Incomplete means did not finish. I am sure that is one reason Caris is coming back. Unfinished Business: CHAMPIONSHIP-GO BLUE!

  • Mattski

    Curious to hear how Dylan thought Davis did this weekend–the kid must have felt like he was under a microscope.

    • I was in Lexington at the EYBL, not in Indianapolis for Adidas.

      • Mattski

        Will be curious to hear how people thought he did.