One day before being selected 20th overall in the 2016 NBA Draft, University of Michigan guard Caris LeVert penned an incredibly moving piece on the Players Tribune, which highlighted the injury-riddled past, the shocking death of his father, and the resiliency he developed over time.
Here's an excerpt from the write-up titled, Letter to NBA GMs, in which he described the great difficulties of having to break the news of his father's death to friends and family on an Easter Sunday ... as a fifteen year old. That's just six years ago:
"They thought I was calling to say happy Easter, but I had to tell them that my dad had died. And I had to do that without falling apart or breaking down.
I couldn't even drive at the time. I was a high school sophomore, and there I was, making those calls — one after another. One moment my dad and I were swapping stories about the basketball games; a few hours later he was gone. Forever. Just like that, with no goodbyes.
So, yeah, I know all about resiliency.
A foot injury? A walking boot? That's not going to hold me down. After everything I've been through, I'm well-equipped to overcome challenges, believe me. Actually, wait, don't believe me. Give me a few more minutes, and let me convince you.
After my dad died, all I wanted to do was work as hard as I possibly could to accomplish all the things that I knew would have made him proud."
If you don't root for the kid after reading this, then you're most likely soulless...or probably a Knick fan who cares more about the Nets than you're willing to admit.
Anyhow, let's go on the court, where LeVert's ability really earned him a first-round selection, even though injuries were believed to have scare teams into taking him later in the draft. For what it's worth, DraftExpress had him at No. 50 in their final mock.
LeVert averaged 16.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists in his senior season at Michigan, which was cut short after playing in only 15 games. Though LeVert missed the bulk of the season due to foot injuries, he ultimately showcased his versatile skill-set in a number of outings, and improved from netting 16.7 points to go along with 5.5 rebounds and 4.2 dimes per 40 minutes as a junior to 21.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.4 assists per 40 minutes as a senior.
In his showing against Illinois on December 30 of 2015, LeVert put forth one of his best efforts as a Wolverine:
Three big takeaways I have here:
1. Kid can drop dimes like a point guard. Yes Net fans, I said a point guard! Along with scoring 22 points on an efficient 9-of-16 shooting from the field (which wasn't abnormal as he shot over 50% for the year), LeVert dished out 10 assists, which tied a career-high from two weeks prior. You'll notice that LeVert has the ball in his hands for most of these possessions, effectively running the show for UM. He slashes with relative ease and is able to find his teammates for good looks. Not something you'll see every day from a 6'7" baller.
2. More on slashing; just look at how many times he gets into the lane. He penetrated the Fighting Illini defense at will time and again, either finishing himself or dishing out to open teammates. In fact, this clip alone has LeVert getting into the paint 13 times. When he gets into the lane, good things seem to happen.
3. He clearly seems to be the leader on the floor. UM relied on him to make plays, and the newly drafted Net did just that. He can score but also has an unselfish nature, which assisted in a final 28.8 player efficiency rating as a senior.
Now let's look at his tape against Xavier from November 20:
1. His ability as a knockdown shooter is evident, which is critical to have in today's NBA. It's worth noting that LeVert drilled 44.6% of three's last season, and over 40% in four years at the Big Ten power. In this game where he finished with 29 points, a season-high, he drilled 5-of-8 from deep.
2. As seen in the first video, he can finish at the rim. Currently listed at 6'7 and a slight-200 pounds, he may need to get it in on some steaks this summer, but he has the ability get to rim and finish with contact, or at least get to the line. He nailed 77% of free throws in Michigan.
3. He looks steady and confident out in transition, and he also has the quickness to gets where he wants to on the floor. He has a tight enough handle and a quick first step to get by defenders, and can finish by himself, dish it out, or earn a trip to the line on the break.
As a bonus, here's more on LeVert in a December 1 showdown against North Carolina State:
Here you'll see more of the same, and a lot of what LeVert can do as opposed to what he can't, which is the essence of all this. LeVert put up a near triple-double here, 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, and half of his points were the result of a 9-of-10 showing from the foul line.
Overall, the guard-needy Nets selected a very versatile wing in LeVert. He's had multiple foot injuries, but was worked on by Dr. Martin O'Malley, who helped Kevin Durant and Brook Lopez get back on the floor, which is a atorng recommendation.
So in the NBA, what is he? Is he a star? Is he a role player? Will he even crack the rotation? Hard to say, but with the Nets roster as wide open as it is, he will unquestionably have the opportunity to assert himself and find big minutes as a rookie.