By Andrew Kahn
Analyzing Caris LeVert’s statistics this season compared to last, it’s hard to believe you’re looking at the same person. A role player who averaged 10 minutes and two points per game as a freshman, LeVert has started every game for Michigan this season and is averaging 12 points. Watch him on the court and the change is equally surprising: LeVert put on at least 20 pounds of muscle and is now a leader for the young Wolverines.
A three-star recruit out of Pickerington, Ohio, LeVert was overshadowed last season by fellow freshmen Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, and Nik Stauskas. Even Spike Albrecht had his big moment—17 points in the first half of the national championship. LeVert, meanwhile, was nearly redshirted. Rail thin and behind Stauskas, Robinson, Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Matt Vogrich on the depth chart at shooting guard/small forward, he didn’t play in Michigan’s first six games last season. Michigan coach John Beilein eventually decided LeVert could add value to a dangerous team, especially as a long-armed perimeter defender.
He became the first non-big man off the bench and contributed at key times, improving as the season progressed. He scored eight points in a win over Illinois in late February. A couple of weeks later, he filled in for an injured Stauskas and scored eight in a one-point victory over Michigan State. While otherwise going scoreless in the NCAA Tournament, he posted another eight-point performance in a close win against Syracuse in the Final Four.
With the departure of Hardaway and national Player of the Year Trey Burke to the NBA, LeVert’s role is drastically different this year. Per KenPom.com, he’s playing 80 percent of Michigan’s minutes and has improved his stats across the board—his effective field goal percentage has jumped from 38 to 50 and his assist rate from 11 to 15.
On Dec. 3 at Duke, the 6’6”, 185-pound LeVert scored 24 points, looking like the only Michigan player unafraid to attack the basket. He went 7-for-7 from the free throw line and hit several difficult shots in traffic.
Confidence has never been a problem for LeVert. Even as a freshman he wasn’t shy about shooting the open three or probing defenses with the dribble. But he often looked like a deer on ice, maneuvering without a purpose. This year he is being counted on to score and create for others and doing a good job of both. He may be the most important player for a 10-4 Michigan team that will be without McGary for the season and starts a freshman at point guard, Derrick Walton, who has been inconsistent.
Michigan will need Stauskas (17.8 points per game) and Robinson (13.4) to score, but LeVert will provide a little bit of everything for a team that has fallen out of the top 25 but is off to a 2-0 start in the Big Ten. We have come to expect great things from freshmen, forgetting that the biggest jump in a college basketball career can often come between the first two years. Michigan hopes LeVert is ready to make that leap.
Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local Sports who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn
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