June 17, 2016
ANN ARBOR — Caris LeVert’s NBA draft stock appears as delicate as the fickle left foot that his future stands upon.
Now just one week away from the June 23 NBA Draft, the former Michigan guard’s projected position remains a guessing game. As one NBA Eastern Conference player personnel staffer put it Thursday, “It depends … will someone take a chance?”
It will be a big one.
Back on March 22, LeVert underwent a third surgery in 22 months on his left foot. The procedure was to repair a Jones fracture to the fifth metatarsal in the foot, an injury similar to one he suffered earlier in his career.
As a result of that surgery, no NBA team has had an opportunity to see LeVert in live action on the floor this spring. No front office officials have seen him in individual workouts. No coaches saw him at the NBA Combine.
As of now, the last time LeVert was seen on the floor at 100 percent was in late December. The 6-foot-7 guard played started Michigan’s first 14 games of the 2015-16 season — leading the Wolverines with 17.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists — before injuring his foot on Dec. 30.
Before reinjuring his foot, LeVert was considered a likely first-round pick in the draft and had the possibility of playing himself into the draft lottery.
Now, LeVert is projected to go anywhere from late in the first to late in the second round.
“It’s hard to build a consensus on where he’ll go,” the NBA Eastern Conference player personnel staffer said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Nothing has really changed with him because he hasn’t been able to work out for any teams. Every team’s medical staff is going to have a different view of his foot.”
During the Draft Combine in Chicago, LeVert underwent X-Rays, CT scans and an MRI at a Chicago hospital, provided results for interested NBA teams and met with around 15 teams.
“Everyone said he was really impressive in interview settings,” the Eastern Conference source said. “He was one of the more impressive guys and personalities.”
While LeVert was on crutches at the combine and said at the time he’d remain on them for four more weeks, the 22-year-old posted a video on Instagram two weeks showing an expedited recovery. LeVert was out of the boot and seen strengthening his surgically repaired left foot.
Though the video was clear progress, some NBA teams remain wary.
“He’s still a mystery,” said one NBA Western Conference scout. “There’s no conclusive evidence and I don’t think anything has changed.”
According to the scout, his team has LeVert slotted as an early-to-mid second-round pick, but added, “I couldn’t see us taking him.”
Another Eastern Conference scout put it more bluntly: “I’ve been told his foot is a serious situation and I don’t know who is going to take him. You don’t want damaged goods, even in a weak draft.”
While he might not be a fit for either of those organizations, LeVert could find a home with one of the teams holding multiple second-round picks, such as Boston, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Orlando, Utah and Denver.
If LeVert is to crack the first round of the draft — and secure the guaranteed contract that goes with it — he could find himself in a situation similar to Golden State’s handling of Kevon Looney — the final pick of last year’s first round, despite a torn labrum.
Likewise, if a playoff team not needing a roster addition sees LeVert as a commodity that could be stored in the D-League for one season, it could see him as a high-value option in the first round.
“He’s a really talented player with a lot of upside,” the Western Conference scout said. “I think a playoff team with a D-League team would probably be the best situation for him.”
During a pre-draft teleconference held on Friday, ESPN’s Chad Ford said he expects LeVert to “slide into the second round” and hear his name called in the 30-to-40 range.
“There’s concern in the medicals that were taken in Chicago about sort of the process of him getting back,” Ford said. “And teams just get gun shy when you’re talking about giving guaranteed deals to guys that might not be healthy in a critical first year. LeVert missed a huge chunk of his senior year and a big part of his junior year, as well.”
LeVert played 33 of a possible 68 games over the last two seasons. After sustaining a stress fracture in his left foot at the end of his sophomore season, he suffered a full fracture in the same foot midway through the following season. He missed the remainder of the year after averaging 14.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game in 15 contests.
Projected as a late first-round pick a year ago, LeVert could have entered the draft last offseason, but opted to return for his senior season.
Whatever team ultimately rolls the dice on LeVert will be drafting him in hopes that he can fulfill that potential.
“I actually think LeVert has a great chance as a player, if he can get healthy, of being a valuable contributor,” Ford said. “He fits the trend that NBA teams are really looking for in a guy that can handle the ball, pass the ball, shoot the ball and play multiple positions.”
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