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2014-2015 Season Review: Caris LeVert

Caris LeVert's junior season was cut short by a foot fracture, but we review and grade his first foray as Michigan's Batman after being Nik Stauskas' Robin as a sophomore.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

PreviousJohn BeileinDerrick WaltonSpike AlbrechtMuhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman

Caris LeVert

No. 23 | Junior | 6-7 | 200 lbs. | Central HS | Pickerington, Ohio

Season GP MPG PPG Usg% Off. Rtg eFG% 2P% 3P% FT% RPG APG TPG SPG BPG
2012-13 33 10.7 2.3 15.2 93.4 38.8 32.6 30.2 50.0 1.1 0.8 0.3 0.2 0.1
2013-14 37 34.0 12.9 21.4 111.7 52.0 46.0 40.8 76.7 4.3 2.9 1.7 1.2 0.3
2014-15 18 35.8 14.9 25.9 101.1 49.3 43.0 40.5 81.0 4.9 3.7 2.2 1.8 0.4

Would Robin become Batman?

That was one of the questions Michigan fans asked as Caris LeVert began his junior season. LeVert -- the former three-star Ohio commit that John Groce didn't call after Groce was hired by Illinois in 2012 -- had been a superb sidekick to Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas in 2014. He averaged 12.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.9 assists, and those averages were mostly better against Big Ten schools (13.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.8 APG) as Stauskas and LeVert led a Mitch McGary-less Michigan team to the program's first exclusive regular-season conference championship since 1986. LeVert was versatile on offense, promising on defense, and named to the All-Big Ten second team for his efforts.

But LeVert would be a sidekick no more once it was announced that Stauskas, McGary, and Glenn Robinson III would head to the NBA. LeVert was left to lead a roster that consisted of an undersized center that had ridden the pine for three years, a perennial backup point guard, two up-and-coming sophomores, and a glut of freshmen. If Michigan wanted to extend the run of success it had had for the previous three years, sandwiching a national runner-up finish with two Big Ten titles, LeVert couldn't be Robin anymore.

He needed to be Batman.

On the surface, LeVert seemed like Batman. He led the team in points (14.9), rebounds (4.9), and steals (1.8) per game, and he finished a tad behind Spike Albrecht for the most assists per game (3.7 to Albrecht's 3.9). He had the ball more than any of the other Wolverines, owning the team's highest usage rate at 25.9 percent. He found different ways to beat the opponent's defense, whether it was running the pick and roll, attacking in isolation, shooting from deep, kicking the ball out to open shooters on the perimeter, and using his length to find Michigan's big men underneath. He also used his length to harass opponents while on defense, posting the sixth-highest steal rate in the Big Ten.

But, underneath, something was missing. LeVert didn't look comfortable being the leader on the floor, and it exposed some of his critical flaws. He thrives as a catch-and-shoot player, but a Batman doesn't have such a luxury. He must generate offense for himself, particularly when the shot clock winds down, and that means producing off the dribble.

However, despite owning a very quick first step, LeVert was ineffective when he put the ball on the floor. His pull-up jumper was inconsistent as he produced only 0.58 PPP off the dribble. His three-point shooting suffered because he had to create his own shot rather than someone else penetrating and finding him behind the arc. Remove his red-hot shooting against Hillsdale, Nicholls State, and NJIT, and LeVert knocked down only 28.8 percent of his threes in his remaining 15 games, most of which were against much better competition. Plus, he made only 19-of-67 jumpers (28.4 pct.) inside the arc and often settled for these mid-range jumpers and six-foot floaters even when he had open lanes to the rim. And, when LeVert did get to the rim, he shied away from contact rather than attack and finish strong against bigger bodies, which speaks to the lack of muscle he has on his still-rail-thin 6-foot-7 frame as well as the killer instinct he doesn't yet possess.

It's hard to deny that LeVert is passive. There were times when this suited Michigan well -- like when he would be in a groove and shred the defense by feeding his teammates for easy buckets with pinpoint passes. But there were times when he was too unselfish and too willing to defer to his teammates -- even when they were hobbled, inexperienced, and not nearly as talented. This was never more evident than when Michigan stumbled in December and early January. Yes, LeVert had that attacking mentality when he almost single-handedly rescued Michigan from its loss to NJIT by pouring in 32 points, 25 of which were in the second half alone. But Michigan needed that aggressive LeVert for the team to bounce back and not permit the NJIT loss to submarine its season. Instead, he scored more than 10 points only once in Michigan's next six games, which included losses to Eastern Michigan, Arizona, SMU, and Purdue, and launched more than 10 shots only twice in those six games. LeVert disappeared when Michigan could least afford it.

At this point, Michigan was in serious jeopardy of not earning an NCAA Tournament bid and needed LeVert to finish the season on a much stronger note to turn things around. He played much better in his next four games, averaging 16.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, and three assists while posting an offensive rating above 100 in all four. And Michigan won three of those games, albeit against Penn State, Minnesota, and Northwestern, so there was some optimism among the fans that LeVert and Michigan could salvage their season.

But bad news broke: LeVert fractured his foot on the last play of the Northwestern win.

He missed the final 14 games of the season, and Michigan missed the postseason.

LeVert's first foray as Batman was underwhelming, particularly when you consider that Michigan's previous two Batman's were Trey Burke -- the 2013 National Player of the Year -- and Stauskas. He didn't seem ready to be the focal point of Michigan's offense, preferring to be a complementary player, and he didn't become the lockdown perimeter defender many hoped he would be because he didn't have the strength to contend against bigger, stronger small forwards. LeVert still seemed more like a Robin, not a Batman.

But Michigan would love for LeVert to give being Batman one more shot. This review has been harsh on LeVert, but it doesn't mean that he isn't a skilled, versatile player that can be an enormous asset for Michigan next season. Plus, Michigan's roster should be more talented, more experienced, and healthier. The onus on LeVert to be Michigan's go-to star should not be as great as Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin, and Spike Albrecht among others should be able to carry a larger share of the load. LeVert could flourish next year.

Now Michigan fans are asking whether LeVert will choose to be Batman one more time. He's mulling over whether he wants to return for his senior season at Michigan or declare for the NBA Draft, for which he is projected to be a late-first-round pick. Due to his disappointing junior season and second foot fracture in the past 12 months, his draft stock has slipped, and LeVert has made it clear that he doesn't "think it makes sense to go early and be drafted in the second round." This could be a promising sign that LeVert will don the maize and blue for one last season in 2015-16, and he'll inform the public if that is the case in the coming days. And I hope that LeVert does return.

Because I want to see LeVert be Batman.

And this past season shouldn't be our last memory of LeVert's career at Michigan.

Final Grade: C+