The stage is officially Caris LeVert's. He earned it following the impressive freshman-to-sophomore jump he made—LeVert went from warming the bench to helping ignite Michigan's offense as a 34-minute-per-game complementary weapon.
And now that Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, the Wolverines' two leading scorers from a year ago, are both off to the pros, LeVert appears locked into a featured role as a junior.
Word on the street is that he's gotten bigger, too. Michigan recently relisted LeVert at 6'7", 200 pounds (from 6'6", 185 pounds), which looks awfully nice when projecting that size to the NBA 2-guard position.
From a scouting perspective, LeVert's physical tools and smooth, fluid athleticism should play directly to his upside as a prospect. And after flashing a skill set consisting of a jumper, attack game and handles, the next step is polishing them up and tying them together.
He'll certainly get the chance. With an expected green light in Michigan's offense, LeVert should be looking at dozens of playmaking opportunities a game. I'm not sure he could have asked for a better setting to continue developing his game and maximizing his 2015 draft stock.
But there are still some improvements he'll have to make and numbers he'll need to maintain if he wants to avoid the "incomplete" label.
And it starts with LeVert's in-between game, an area that separates specialist scorers from the go-to ones in the pros.
At this point, LeVert's strengths center around his money spot-up jumper and finishing ability off drives, cuts and slashes. He nailed a whopping 64 percent of all his catch-and-shoot opportunities, per Dylan Burkhardt of UMHoops.com via Synergy Sports Technology. And with that quick first step and explosive last one, LeVert torched opposing defenders as a driver in isolation.
However, he really struggled scoring in the mid-range, without a steady pull-up jumper or floater to go to inside the arc.
Check out his sophomore shot chart, which highlights his dangerous long-range game, finishing prowess and ineffectiveness in between:
He hit just 33.5 percent of his jumpers off the dribble and 33.3 percent of his two-point jumpers taken 17 feet or deeper, per Burkhardt.
The good news is that he's capable of separating and creating his own shot. That's usually more than half the battle for most prospects.
LeVert just needs to continue refining that mid-range scoring arsenal and work on execution, from his pull-ups and step-backs to his runner game on the move.
Maximize Playmaking Potential
LeVert actually showed off some admirable playmaking ability last season. And what a cushion it would offer if he's able to turn it into a core strength.
He's proven to be more than capable as a ball-handler out of pick-and-roll sets. In fact, 24.3 percent of his possessions came out of pick-and-rolls (24.5 percent spot-ups), per Synergy Sports Technology via ESPN.com's Eamon Brennan. LeVert used ball screens to free himself up for shots and opportunities to create as a passer. He averaged 2.9 assists with a decent 17.2 percent assist rate as a sophomore—better numbers than 2014 first-round 2-guards/wings Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, James Young, Gary Harris, Jordan Adams, P.J. Hairston and C.J. Wilcox.
Coincidentally, only Stauskas' assist numbers were better among 2-guards. And there's no question his improved playmaking ability last year helped catapult him into the top 10 of that draft.
LeVert should be looking at a similar role as the one Stauskas held down as a sophomore. And as Brennan points out, these are two similar players based on their athleticism and shooting, driving and passing skills. If LeVert can get scouts to buy into his playmaking ability, it could do wonders for his draft stock.
Usage Rate versus Efficiency
After being used in just 21.9 percent of Michigan's possessions last year, LeVert should be looking at a significant increase in touches. And he'll have to be careful not to abuse them.
Given his microwave scoring ability, LeVert needs to avoid falling victim to poor shot selection and decision-making. He's going to want to keep those shooting percentages up despite an expected rise in attempts, just like Stauskas did last year.
While his sales pitch to the pros ultimately centers around his ability to put the ball in the hole, adding "high basketball IQ" and "plays within the offense" to his scouting report could go a long way toward his stock and likability.
Health Update, NBA Draft Outlook
It slid slightly under the radar, but LeVert missed most of the summer recovering from surgery needed to repair a stress fracture in his foot that was revealed after last season.
“I just got back last week,” LeVert told Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press. “I’m trying to ease back into it. My conditioning is not where it needs to be, obviously. But I know I’ll be there in the next couple weeks.”
Hopefully health won't be an issue or even a talking point for LeVert this season.
The projected field in this year's draft isn't as deep or talented as last year's. If LeVert ends up experiencing the breakout season that last year's jump suggests he's ready for, his upside as a scorer and playmaker could potentially hold lottery value in 2015.
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