For the past two seasons, Caris LeVert has started the season as a top-20 prospect in all of college basketball.
Unfortunately though, each of his last two seasons have been ended by injuries, as it was announced on Tuesday that LeVert will miss the rest of Michigan’s season due to a “lower left leg” injury. This comes after his season last year ended due to surgery on his left foot.
What impact will this have on LeVert’s NBA Draft stock? That’s a question that many are asking in the front office community, and one that will not be answered until he goes through a battery of tests on his left foot. LeVert’s medical exams for NBA teams and at the NBA Draft Combine will now be among the most highly-scrutinized of the entire draft process, and with good reason.
Before we get into the injury concerns though, let’s give a quick rundown on LeVert’s standing as a prospect when he’s on the floor and explain why he would be such a highly sought after player.
Size: Basically, the 6-foot-7 LeVert has prototypical size for an NBA wing, and also has a terrific 7-foot-plus wingspan. In an era where length measurements are now almost as important as height as it refers to wing players, LeVert’s numbers there are ideal.
Offense: He’s also a terrific shooter who has made 42 percent of his 291 3-point attempts over the last three seasons, and he’s a good ball-handler and decision maker offensively who can make a lot of plays for others. In terms of growth, he’d also made strides finishing inside this season, which had been a problem for him in the past. Basically, LeVert profiles well as a potential role player on the wing offensively.
Defense: The problem for him when he’s on the floor has always been on defense, and that’s one of the reasons he’s never quite shot up draft boards. He’s a potential 3-and-D player without consistent defense, so to speak. All too often, he gets lost on that end of the floor off the ball. He also hasn’t really ever consistently fought through screens well. That’s what’s made him more of a theoretical high-end prospect as opposed to a true lottery-level prospect like his talent indicates. His game translates to the NBA, and he has the tools to be an effective defender physically. He just needs to make the mental translation once he gets to the league to focus in on the defensive end of the floor more.
On-floor stock: In the spacing-oriented NBA where shooting, athleticism and length are as coveted as ever on the wing, LeVert would seem to be tailor made for the league. Plus, this draft has a bit of a weakness in terms of true wings and shooting, making his skill-set all the more potentially valuable. To apply basic economic principles to this draft, LeVert’s skill set is one low in supply and high in demand in this draft. That would make him a commodity.
That is, as long as his medical exams come back clear. And that’s anything but a certainty at this point.
Injuries: In the summer of his sophomore season then in the middle of his junior season, the Pickerington, Ohio native had two surgeries on his left foot within 10 months. The two procedures were related to injuries in the same bone in his foot, according to John Beilein. The first time it was a stress fracture, the second time it was a complete fracture. The recurrence was something that already set off NBA alarms and had teams concerned.
Then, LeVert began missing games this season with a mysterious “lower left leg” injury that set off even further warnings. It has never been officially specified that the injury has occurred due in part to complications from surgery, and because of that there will be some pretty wild speculation in front offices about what to think of his inability to stay healthy.
Is it a long-term issue? Will doctors be able to clear him for action? It’s worth noting that LeVert was cleared for action to play in Michigan’s game on Feb. 13 against Purdue, but since then the pain has returned and he has not been able to compete.
Overall: Given his standing as a prospect when he’s on the floor and the relative dearth of fellow wing prospects and shooters, LeVert’s medicals will be the most important part of his draft stock for NBA teams. If he’s able to rehab over the next two months, pass his medical exams, and then also not show up with any structural, long-term injury concerns, he should be a first round pick. However, if teams do find long-term issues with LeVert’s foot (or anything else), it’s unlikely he would be selected in the top-30. Currently, I’m splitting that difference and placing him at No. 28 on my board until we get further information on his long-term health. Given the cloak-and-dagger nature with which Michigan has handled this situation thus far, those answers likely won’t come until at least late-April or possibly even late-May.
We’ve seen plenty of prospects pick up red flags and see their stock fall because of it. LeVert could be the next one who sees that happen if things don’t go his way.