Caris LeVert missed the first 20 games of the season for the Nets, but the #20 pick in last season's draft has a valuable skill set that can be key to Brooklyn's success.
Caris LeVert entered the 2016 draft with a multitude of questions around him. The largest question then, as it will likely be for the foreseeable future, is his health. LeVert broke his left foot for the third time during his senior season at Michigan, and even Nets foot and ankle specialist Dr. Martin O'Malley's declaration that LeVert is fully healthy is not enough to fully alleviate those health concerns.
LeVert's talent, however, is undeniable. His 6'7" frame makes him a tough cover at either guard position, and he sports the offensive skills to be highly effective both on and off the ball. In terms of his point guard skills, he averaged 4.9 assists against just 1.6 turnovers per game during his senior season at Michigan. His height allows him to see the floor over anyone who is guarding him (particularly opposing point guards), and helps him to execute on some difficult cross-court passes:
He also was a knockdown shooter from behind the arc for Michigan, shooting 45% on three-pointers during his senior season and 40.8% in his strong sophomore year campaign. His height also helps him with his shooting, as he can usually shoot over the top of most defenders:
LeVert was considered to be a lottery-level prospect after his strong sophomore season at Michigan, and the Nets risked taking him at #20 likely in part due to O'Malley giving him a clean bill of health. In his first eight games, LeVert has shown signs of the kind of impact he can have for Brooklyn on both ends of the floor.
Despite his offensive success at Michigan, Caris LeVert has struggled to score in his first few games in Brooklyn. The sample size is quite small, but LeVert is 10 of 34 from the field and has made just four of his 17 three-point attempts so far. He has mostly been reduced to a spot-up role, and will probably not have many opportunities to run the offense now that Jeremy Lin has returned to the lineup. His size advantage at the collegiate level is less significant than what he will be able to expect in the NBA — especially since most of his minutes going forward will probably be as shooting guard, with Lin back in the fold.
His passing has been solid, as he has been making the right reads in general. His early shooting struggles may be leading him to pass out of more shooting situations than he should, but his overall decision-making has been solid. LeVert has eleven assists and five turnovers, but those assist numbers understate his passing skill and frequency thus far. The three targets of his passing so far according to NBA.com's tracking data are Isaiah Whitehead (20.9% of his passes), Bojan Bogdanovic (19.8%), and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Those three are shooting 25%, 42.9%, and 25% respectively after those passes. LeVert has done a good job of keeping the offense in motion so far, even though his shooting struggles may be leading him to make an extra pass more often than he should.
Given that Sean Kilpatrick is having a breakout season and Isaiah Whitehead's shooting has recovered after a rough start to the season, LeVert will need to shoot better from behind the arc to stay in the rotation going forward. LeVert's college statistics would indicate that his three-point percentage will improve as the sample size gets larger, but the first few games have not been promising on the offensive end.
Luckily for the Nets, LeVert has been a pleasant surprise on the defensive end. His 6'10" wingspan helps him to smother opposing guards, and he has already shown an aptitude for jumping into passing lanes. He racked up three steals in his first game in just nine minutes of play. LeVert is currently in the 65th percentile defensively according to Synergy Sports stats. Opponents are shooting 2.7% below average on shots contested by LeVert according to NBA.com's shot tracking data.
The area where LeVert has stood out most defensively is in his pick-and-roll coverage. Many rookies struggle to adjust to the frequency of pick-and-rolls run by the average NBA offense, but LeVert has been able to recover well on pick-and-rolls and use his long arms to contain ball-handlers. LeVert ranks in the 96th percentile at defending the pick-and-roll. While the defensive sample size is just as prone to overstating his capabilities there as it is prone to understating his offensive potential, LeVert does have the physical tools to be an impact defender going forward.
Caris LeVert was a risky draft choice by Sean Marks, but LeVert's upside on both ends of the floor compares favorably with most of the players drafted in the late lottery this past year. If he can maintain a clean bill of health, he may look like a draft day heist in the years to come.