Marveling at Caris LeVert’s VersatilityPosted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on February 22nd, 2014
Have you ever played a basketball video game with your favorite team, and you pick a single player – usually a guard – to try to excel in every aspect of the game? On defense, you try to lock down the best offensive player from the opposing team. On offense, you try to set up plays in the half-court, penetrate into the paint, finish around the basket, and also nail a long-range shot from time to time. Michigan’s Caris LeVert is one of those players. Over the past five games, LeVert has averaged 17.0 PPG for the Wolverines, helping to make up for Nik Stauskas’ slump. LeVert’s surge has put Big Ten defenses in a tough spot, because the Wolverines are more than just a one-man wrecking crew on the offensive end.
Statistically speaking, LeVert’s 13/5/3 averages do not necessarily indicate greatness, but John Beilein can always count on him to bail out the team on broken possessions. After Michigan’s loss to Charlotte during the non-conference season, Beilein turned to LeVert to set up plays in the half-court because freshman Derrick Walton Jr. wasn’t yet ready for that responsibility. Stauskas is just as valuable playing the quasi-point guard role, but he is more effective running off screens and looking for his shot. You rarely see LeVert stumble with the ball on the offense, almost reminding you of an excellent soccer midfielder who isn’t necessarily quick but always keeps the ball alive, looking for the next play. When he does attack the basket, he doesn’t just zip through the screens; rather, he gets there methodically and looks to dish to the open player in the corner, and if that option is unavailable, he is crafty with his layups. Look no further than his 33.2 percent free throw rate and 82 free throw attempts to understand his effectiveness in the lane. Even in the team’s losses, he didn’t stray away from the game plan and tried to keep the Wolverines in the game by relentlessly attacking the basket.
Off the ball, Levert is no slouch either, shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc. He is one of those players who doesn’t always look to score, but if you force to do so, he can really pour it on the defense. His composure on the offensive end is very similar to that of Syracuse’s C.J.Fair: Both players can quietly score 15.0 PPG and the game’s average viewer may not even realize that either is a formidable scoring threat. Because of his smooth jumper, Beilein runs several plays that involve LeVert, Stuaskas and Jon Horford. It usually goes like this: LeVert will try to dribble around the screener, Horford, while Stuaskas comes to the top of the key to receive a pass. Often the defense will get caught up on switches because LeVert and Stauskas can drive around Horford to the basket, or LeVert can hoist a fairly wide open jumper from the perimeter. The flexibility that he provides to the Michigan offense is tough to quantify, but it shows up in the team’s overall offensive efficiency. His contributions this season have helped Beilein’s offense score 1.21 points per possession during conference play – an improvement of 0.09 points per possession from last season. That improvement is especially impressive when you consider that Michigan lost two NBA Draft picks in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.
Regardless of what happens with Michigan in the postseason, it has been a joy to watch LeVert operate on the floor. It might not be too much of a stretch to compare him to an ex-Buckeye, Evan Turner, with respect to his overall contribution to his team. In his third year, Turner did everything in the half-court for Thad Matta – a role that LeVert might need to take on next season if Stauskas heads to the NBA. For now, though, we can just sit back and admire his patience and composure as the Wolverines make another run at the Final Four.