Just wanted to interrupt this nice MGoBlog evening to show Caris Levert crushing a man's ankles.
If this isn't embedded correctly, I'll embed it below.
Fuller – MGoBlog
When Michigan took a flier on a 3* Ohio (yes, that Ohio) commit late in the 2012 recruiting cycle, few could have predicted that he’d grow into such a great player at the college level. Despite being as skinny as humanly possible, Caris played so well in practice that they burned his redshirt; a few months later he was getting valuable rotation minutes on a Final Four team. As a sophomore, he had a breakout season alongside Nik Stauskas as Michigan ran roughshod over the rest of the Big Ten.
With his classmates – Stauskas, GRIII, and Mitch McGary – in the NBA, LeVert’s last two seasons in Ann Arbor were derailed by injury and the Wolverines acutely felt his absence. Through the first two months of his senior year, LeVert was playing at a very high level and it appeared as if his decision to return to Michigan would help him in the draft, perhaps even giving him a shot to be a lottery pick. And then he got hurt again.
In the run-up to the draft, Caris wasn’t projected by anyone to go in the first round. His injury history was his defining characteristic characteristic as a prospect, and he wrote an open letter to GMs on the Players’ Tribune essentially to explain how many obstacles he’s already overcome and what kind of player he can be when he’s healthy. Pretty much everyone agreed that he’d be a perfectly fine second round pick – which gives a player far less certainty than being selected in the first round does – that could outperform his draft slot if healthy enough to play.
I really liked him as a prospect: it’s rare to see someone with such obvious 3-and-D potential at both ends of the floor in college, plus his passing ability and handle could allow him to play as an oversized point guard. By his senior year, he’d shown it all: 45% from three on more than four attempts per game, 32.9 to 11.8 assist to turnover rate ratio, a free throw rate of 44.0 – an offensive blend of efficiency and usage along with the most active, disruptive perimeter defense he’d ever played. The big if will always linger until he strings together a few healthy seasons, but he’s definitely an NBA player if he can stay on the floor.
In last week's draft, Caris was selected 20th overall – 2/3 of the way through the first round – by the Brooklyn Nets, a team who traded Thad Young, an established veteran, to get into the draft (as their extremely valuable first-round picks are held by the Boston Celtics for a few years as the aftereffect of a disastrous trade). The Nets were evidently comfortable with his medical reports, as LeVert’s most recent surgery was done by someone who works for the franchise.
Based on the consensus of the pre-draft hivemind, it might have been considered a reach, but most considered it to be a worthwhile gamble based on the dire future in Brooklyn and LeVert’s potential to grow into an impact player down the line. The Nets – projected to finish in the bottom three of the NBA again next season – need to gamble on upside and they did exactly that. That they were willing to essentially give up their second-best player (granted, on a terrible team) for a player who’d just suffered consecutive season-ending injuries indicates how much they see in LeVert.
There will be plenty of opportunity for him. Aside from their fluid and effective low post scoring center, Brook Lopez, the roster is really bad. After buying out Joe Johnson’s hideous contract, the backcourt rotation was miserable – Shane Larkin, Donald Sloan, Jarrett Jack, Wayne Ellington, Markel Brown. Much like the situation Stauskas stepped into in Philadelphia last summer, there will be plenty of available playing time for Caris if he’s ready to go by the start of the season.
It would be shocking if LeVert didn’t get significant rotation minutes, based on their willingness to concede Young and trade in to the draft. That LeVert is an older prospect is helpful in that regard, though there’s obviously a massive jump in quality from mostly small-conference college opposition in the last few years to facing other NBA players every night. If the transition is easier for him than for other recent Michigan draftees, he could start as a rookie and put up a lot of empty stats on a bad team – consider taking Caris as a sleeper if you play fantasy basketball.
I think Brooklyn is a pretty good landing spot for him, and – on the chance that he greatly exceeds even optimistic projections – it’s somewhere where he could quickly become a foundational asset. I’m surprised that they took him in the first round, though perhaps they were unwilling to find out if one of those excellently-run late, late first round franchises liked him a lot too.
As someone who’s closely followed LeVert’s college basketball career, it’s really hard not to root for him – that his decision to return for his senior season, a risk that didn’t work out, eventually didn’t wind up hurting him in the long run is a relief. Frequently seeing him in street clothes on the sidelines was a significant dimension of the past two years of Michigan hoops, and it’s hard not to consider him as one of the most snakebitten UM athletes in recent memory. To now see him on the cusp of a promising pro career, degree in hand, ready to sign a contract that could very well wind up paying out around six million dollars – it’s a happy ending for a career marked with such misfortune. We’ll be rooting for you, Caris.
Am I the only one "working" today? This is great. Caris writes about his early challenges, overcoming adversity, ending up a Wolverine, and why he's ready to work in the NBA.
Dear NBA GMs: My name is Caris LeVert. I’m a six-foot-seven point-slash-shooting guard from Pickerington, Ohio, via the University of Michigan, and there are some things that you should know about me.
You probably heard that I hurt my foot a few months ago. It’s all anyone talks about when my name comes up at this point. There was a surgery, and, for a while, a walking boot. I was the guy on crutches at the combine. And since I had some foot issues earlier in my college career, doubters have come out in droves.
Now lots of people are asking whether I can come back and be the player I was before, whether I’m tough enough to pick myself up and be resilient in the face of adversity. It’s a strange thing for me to hear, honestly, because I know all about adversity and resiliency. I learned about those things at a young age. Had to. Didn’t have a choice.
With the news that Spike Albrecht will be transferring for his fifth-year senior season, the last member of the “Fresh Five” departs Ann Arbor. The 2012 recruiting class – Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson, Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Spike – were all rotation players as freshmen in March and made it to the national title game: for a brief stretch, they were all on the floor together in the Georgia Dome as Michigan raced out to a first half lead over Louisville. Mitch, who was so impactful in that tournament run, was lost to injury as a sophomore; with Nik, Caris, and GRIII leading the charge, Michigan won the Big Ten and made it to the Elite Eight.
In those two seasons, the Wolverines won 59 games, posting a 27-9 record in Big Ten play and going 8-2 in the NCAA Tournament. The three-year span from 2012 (when the Fresh Five were seniors in high school) to 2014 (their sophomore year) will probably be considered the apex of the Beilein era – the ‘13 and ‘14 teams were the best offensively in all of college basketball and true national title contenders. As far as recruiting classes – and five-man lineups – go, Albrecht / LeVert / Stauskas / Robinson / McGary is about as good as you’ll get in college basketball.
Mitch thrived after he lost weight and, with the help of Trey Burke, became one of the best players in the country in March as a freshman – physical, energetic, and lethal in the pick-and-roll. Nik blew up as a sophomore, won Big Ten POY, and was drafted in the lottery after excelling as the team’s sharpshooting alpha dog. GRIII started and played big minutes in a complementary role for two excellent teams before leaving for the NBA (and sticking with a team). Caris was a phenomenal second banana as a sophomore and developed into an very intriguing NBA prospect in his own right. Spike was always a good backup point guard, an offensive sparkplug and a stable rotation cog – and developed into a capable starter as a junior.
Depending on LeVert’s health, there could be four of the Fresh Five in the NBA next season. Hopefully we’ll get to see Spike play well at his next stop and light up somebody in the NCAA Tournament a year from now. Because talent is so fleeting in college basketball, the window for these guys at Michigan was pretty small – just two seasons. Beilein made the most of those two seasons though and the Fresh Five helped elevate Michigan to a level of success it hadn’t seen since the Fab Five while playing a brilliant kind of offensive basketball – elite shooting, pick-and-roll mastery, and GRIII thunder-dunks.
Unfortunately, fate was cruel to Mitch, Caris, and Spike.
[sadness, but also happiness after THE JUMP]
Fresh from the mothership.