As we stand just hours away from the 2016 NBA Draft, there's a near unanimous sense of intrigue and optimism for both fans and the actual draft prospects. For fans, they always have this sanguine feeling whenever the draft rolls around where their team will be able to draft that particular draft prospect that can help lead them to playoff success. Meanwhile, those prospects, whether they range from perennial 1st overall picks (Ben Simmons) to diamonds in the rough (Kay Felder), are finally going to accomplish that dream of becoming an NBA player.
The reason why I said "near unanimous sense of intrigure and optimism" is that one Draft prospect is struggling to even reach that feeling of optimism: former Michigan guard Caris LeVert. Way back in December 2014, LeVert was one of the rising players in college hoops, as he seemed to embody that perfect modern-day guard. Despite standing at 6'7 with a 6'10 wingspan, Levert fit best as that combo guard that can both take over as a facilitator and scorer. With swift handles and a beautiful perimeter stroke (shot 40% as a junior), LeVert seemed well on his way towards being a lottery player in the 2015 NBA Draft.
All of that changed in the final stages of a mid-January match-up against Northwestern. After working his ass off during the entire game, where he finished with 18 points and 7 assists, LeVert re-injured the same left foot that he damaged during his sophomore season. That injury cut LeVert's season short and ultimately ended his hopes of entering the 2015 NBA Draft.
As he returned to school for his senior season, it would've seemed like the 3rd time would've been a charm for LeVert. Early in that senior season, LeVert just stood out as one of the best players in college hoops, averaging 16.5 points, 4.9 assists and 4.5 rebounds on 50% from the field and 44% from beyond the arc. Finally, LeVert seemed to establish himself as that ideal player as both fans of analytics and old-school supporters of the eye test would both agree that he was a phenomenal player. However, eerily similar to the previous season, LeVert as he broke that same left foot early in Big-10 play. This time, LeVert got hurt in a later December match-up against Illnois, where he hurt himself after stepping on an opposing player's foot.
Unsurprisingly, that injury scared NBA scouts across the league, as he instantly went from being projected to go in the late teens to a mid-2nd round pick once it was discovered that he'd be out for the remainder of the season. The bad news for LeVert continued, as his surgery in late March prevented him from participating in individual workouts or the NBA Draft Combine. Those absences allowed other prospects to shine while LeVert was pushed to the side in the minds of most NBA teams. .
That's a huge shame as LeVert is an incredibly skilled and versatile player when he's healthy. That's especially evident on the offensive end, as LeVert basically worked as an amazing "swiss army knife" in how he could produce in a plethora of ways. The biggest weapon in LeVert's cornucopia of offensive skills is his work as a perimeter shooter. Over the course of his college career, LeVert shot 40% from beyond the arc, which included shooting 45% as a senior. LeVert's able to be so efficient by having a nice and compact shooting stroke. While it isn't the prettiest thing in the world, that stroke allows LeVert to quickly put the ball up whether he's working off the dribble or through catch and shoot.
Alongside that fantastic jumper, Caris LeVert was dangerous due to his skills as a ball-handler. With a great combination of speed with nice handles, LeVert seemed to be able to consistently cut his way to the rim. As you can see in the clip below, LeVert drives his way past the Illinois defender and uses a nice little up-and-under move to score at the rim. Those skills allowed Levert to be extremely effective from around the rim, as shot 77% according to Hoop-Math.
Perhaps the most appealing part of LeVert's all-around game is his development as a facilitator. During his short senior season, LeVert was an efficient distributor, as he held a 3.14 Ast/TO ratio. Those numbers only trail Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis among the most efficient facilitators in this year's draft class. LeVert's a capable passer whether he's looking for a player out on the perimeter or through drive and kicks. On the perimeter, LeVert uses his 6'7 frame to see over the entire court to make the correct read. Through drive-and-kicks, he uses his tremendous handles to drive towards the paint, where he's then able to find perimeter shooters or work it to a big hanging in the paint. That second method is seen in the play below, as LeVert uses his handles to work his way towards the rim, where he throws the perfect pass to the inside man.
As we get closer to the NBA Draft, Caris LeVert stands as the prototypical "low-risk, high reward" player. That low risk is due to LeVert likely being a 2nd round as teams would feel more comfortable picking him knowing that he'd have a non-guaranteed contract. However, that "high reward" potential is due to LeVert being one of the most versatile players in the entire draft. When he's healthy, there might not be many players that could touch his mix of facilitating, cutting and super efficient perimeter shooting. If healthy, those skills might allow Caris LeVert to establish himself in that same category as past 2nd round steals Khris Middleton or Draymond Green