(All stats are prior to Sunday’s games, and come courtesy of ESPN.com, NBA.com, and Basketball-Reference.com. Thank you!)
Let’s check in with a favorite of mine, Caris LeVert of the Indiana Pacers. LeVert is a Go Blue Michigan Wolverine who was drafted by the rebuilding Brooklyn Nets in 2016. Not only am a fan of his play, but he’s also a brave cancer survivor, and a man who’s remained steadfast and defiant in the face of adversity. Now at 27 years old, LeVert’s been through injuries and serious health issues, but he’s come out the other side. He’s healthy and he’s starting for the Indiana Pacers, a team many of us considered to be a playoff team before the season started, despite the absence of TJ Warren on the wing.
At 6’6”, LeVert’s major draw has been as a possible dominant 3 & D wing, capable of scoring 20+ points per game and stretching the floor. Unfortunately, LeVert’s only a 33% career three-point shooter. That fact, combined with his absences, and the fact that he’s now on a solid team in Indiana, rather than as an offensive focal point on the pre-Brooklyn-Big-3 Nets, has diminished LeVert’s star somewhat.
This season, he has only played in 17 of the Pacers’ 27 games, but he’s back. So how’s he doing?
LeVert is 84% rostsered in ESPN leagues, and he’s averaging 14+ PPG, 2+ rebounds per game, 2+ assists per game, and 1+ 3PM on 41% overall shooting. Less than 60 players average that in the NBA, by the way, and only 55 players match or exceed LeVert’s 14+ shot attempts per game. The volume is bueno, in other words.
LeVert’s 48 True Shooting percentage is the worst of his career, so perhaps some positive regression is coming? He shot 44% from the floor last year, and he’s also averaged 3+ RPG and 3+ APG for his career, along with more than a steal per game. His hands might get more active as the season goes along. (Less than 50 players are currently averaging 14-3-3.)
Caris has the best net rating of his career so far this season, perhaps due to his lower usage rate. His plus-minus is also at a career high, despite the Pacers going 3-7 in their last 10 games, and LeVert shooting under his career field goal percentages. However, the Pacers are now 9-16 after starting 6-9. On the other hand, Indiana has the 14th best point differential in the NBA, and they’re 1-7 in clutch games (decided by three points or less). The Pacers look incoherent at the end of games sometimes, but they have a coach in Rick Carlisle whose reputation is as an offensive genius. Is that bad luck? Or a function of how they play? Does it matter for fantasy purposes?
Not really. So long as LeVert gets his volume, we don’t much care what the In Real Life scoreboard says. If Caris starts to lose minutes and shots, then we can worry; but since TJ McConnell is now injured, along with TJ Warren still being out, LeVert could actually be in store for MORE volume.
Regarding penetration and the perimeter: 28 players currently average 12 or more drives per game, and LeVert’s 17th in field goal percentage on drives. Sub-optimal, but about the same as Paul George. Unfortunately, and here’s either the really good news, or the really bad news, LeVert’s three point shot is DREADFUL. How bad is it? Out of the 86 players in the NBA who’ve attempted at least 239 shots, LeVert has the fourth worst 3PT% (he takes 4+ 3PA per game). Out of the 143 players who’ve taken at least 70 three-point attempts, LeVert has THE WORST three point percentage at 25.3 3PT%. The only other players with sub-26 3PT% on that volume of attempts are Jalen Suggs and Josh Giddey, BOTH of whom are ROOKIES.
Now: is that really good news because we can expect LeVert to shoot threes at a better rate? He’s a 33 3PT% career shooter, but he shot 36% from three in 2019-20.
Or, is it really bad news because LeVert’s offensive weaknesses are now emphasized and can be exploited, and he may start losing minutes and shots on the Pacers?
Remember: LeVert is 84% rostered. He’s out of the top 200 on the player rater for the season, but that’s because he missed 10 games. In the past two weeks, though, he’s at #132 on the player rater, while averaging the fourth-most minutes on the Pacers and the third-most shot attempts. If he’s top 150 while he shakes the rust off, and since some indicators seem to suggest that his shooting will improve, can we safely assume that LeVert will deliver better fantasy value going forward? Maybe top 100 if everything breaks right?
To that point, TJ McConnell will be out for awhile. When LeVert was in Brooklyn, he’d sometimes take the reins of the second unit and be the de facto point guard—could the Pacers implement that tactic, too? They’re now down both TJs, which accounts for a helluva lotta minutes on the Pacers when everyone’s healthy.
I’m torn. I want to believe in LeVert, and I do think he’s in a prime position to get more minutes and counting stats, and I’m a firm believer in positive regression. But, the fact that he’s a mediocre three point shooter for his career gives me pause. There are other players who are rostered less who can give you more fantasy production. Would you consider a 2-1 trade for less rostered players with LeVert on your team, especially considering his health history? You kinda have to, don’tcha? But, the Pacers are out of the playoffs right now, and if that continues, then they might start trading away players, which means LeVert could be in store for an even LARGER role if the Pacers don’t trade him, or he could be in a better situation if they DO trade him. These are tough questions for fantasy rosters, and we’re going to need to start answering them when December 15th, and thus trade season, arrives.
There are lots of possibilities with Caris LeVert. I don’t know if we’ll ever get efficient volume out of him, but he’s only 27 years old, and he’s had bad breaks in his career through no fault of his own. Perhaps a good two or three year stretch of health could really help him ascend to a dominant wing player, but for now we’re mainly left with questions, as are the 9-16 Pacers.