Jr. SG Caris LeVert; 6-foot-6 200 lbs.
Last year's emergence of Nik Stauskas was a surprise to many who expected Michigan to be led by Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary. Of course it wasn't as surprising as the huge leap in production and efficiency that Caris LeVert made as a sophomore.
In his first year it was mostly just talk. Mentions of LeVert having a natural scoring talent that flashed through practices and led to a burned redshirt were mostly confirmed by bits and pieces of in game play. A big block here or a three-pointer there were positive signs outweighed by, well, not the spindly kid doing them. Caris was just too physically deficient against older, stronger college players. A summer in the weight room helped change that, and as a sophomore LeVert's skill could finally flourish.
Flourish it did. His offensive rating jumped nearly 20 points all the while his role in the offense grew by almost 50%. He played more minutes than anyone but Stauskas, and when the rest of the offense broke down it was often LeVert who willed it along with dribble drives against two and three defenders (last year's Duke loss was a prime example of the offense running primarily through Caris). LeVert was the perfect compliment for Stauskas: a fellow point-forward who could keep the offense humming, both skilled at finding the other on kick out passes, and both able to get into the lane. Caris has already established his role on this team: he will do just about anything, no corner of the box score is safe.
Statistically, LeVert didn't just improve, he became a different player entirely. His share of minutes skyrocketed and every single number save for turnover rate improved drastically. Not even that small bump in turnovers could be considered a big black eye as LeVert was a much bigger part of the offense and sported a solid TO rate given that.
- Isolation: LeVert was just about the only offensive option Michigan had a year ago that was capable of creating offense off the bounce without the benefit of a screen or cut. Nik Stauskas, for all of his talent, was better using screens and finding step-back shot opportunities with a quick dribble, and Glenn Robinson's first step kept him from doing much of anything that didn't involve a screen or a pass after he had gotten up to full speed. LeVert, however, could use his quick dribble and first step to break down a defender at the top of the key, get into the lane, and snake his way past help for layups and fouls. His FT rate doubled in year two thanks to this knack for the dribble drive.
- Three-point shooting: LeVert slightly edged out Zak Irvin in three-point attempts last year and hit them at 40.8%. Unlike Stauskas, LeVert relied a bit more on assists to set up his outside shooting (85% assisted), but his attempts from outside were slightly less than 40% of his total attempts, showing that LeVert was one more Michigan's more three-dimensional offensive threats.
- Generating Steals/Breaks: LeVert has the team's best steal rate on defense and was one of its best defensive rebounders, leading the way in the backcourt with a 14.0 defensive rebounding rate. He could be used as a difference maker at the top of Michigan's sometimes deployed 1-3-1 defense, and it seemed like once a game he would tap a ball into the backcourt and end up with a tough layup in transition.
- Pull-up Jumpers: LeVert's eFG% number lags despite solid three point shooting, and a big part of that is his struggles from mid-range. LeVert made just 31% of his 148 mid-range jumper attempts, a number that drug down his overall scoring and effectiveness on offense. John Beilein's offense prizes three point and layup attempts. If LeVert is going to continue shooting from the mid range (and odds are he will as defenses will do a lot to force him to take those opportunities in pick and roll situations) he needs to improve as a shooter from that area of the floor.
Michigan's offense is well built to continue operating at a high level of efficiency. LeVert is joined by sophomore versions of Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton, and that will help spread the offensive load in a similar split to last year with LeVert acting as just one of a few primary options. However, Caris has a few little kinks in his game that will need to be fixed, including his short pull up jump shot.
LeVert has the talent to be an all-Big Ten performer. He just needs to flesh out his game in the few areas where he is currently vulnerable. His offensive rating should see a slight uptick as shooting numbers and FT Rate numbers improve. Any greater improvement — especially in the aforementioned midrange game as well as rebounding rate, free throw rate, or assist rate — could signal another big jump in production for Caris, as well as the kind of season that could see him establish himself as one of the best upperclassmen in the nation.