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Stiffs Prospect Watch: Caris LeVert

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The Michigan Wolverines senior guard projects as a late lottery pick due to his shooting and physical tools, but an injury history and his age could make him available for the Nuggets with a second first-round pick.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

One of the surprise teams in the Eastern Conference this season has been the Charlotte Hornets, who currently sit just outside the playoffs with a 17-14 record.

The Hornets made headlines this summer when it was reported that they turned down four first-round picks from the Boston Celtics so they could select Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky. It would have been a massive trade, but Michael Jordan wanted his guy so the Hornets said no.

Rich Cho soldiered on after the draft, acquiring Nicolas Batum in a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers and signing Jeremy Lin in free agency. These two moves have paid off for the Hornets, especially the acquisition of Nicolas Batum. Batum is a versatile player, more than capable on defense and an exceptional playmaker on offense. He can shoot, pass, dribble, rebound and guard - a five-tool player. He's had a 5x5 game, and is one of the few players this season with a triple-double. He's not likely to ever make an All-Star game, but his role on a team helps elevate his teammates.

One of the players that could be available for the Nuggets on draft day is a senior swing man from Michigan that reminds me of Batum, Caris LeVert. They are very similar in height (Batum at 6'8" to LeVert at 6'7"), weight (200 lbs. to 205 lbs.), and wingspan (7'0.5" to 7'1"). They both have a slithery way of moving around the court, using their length to stride past defenders on the perimeter on offense while getting in the way on defense. Neither player is going to overpower their man on either end, but they use their size to create advantages.

LeVert is in his fourth season with the Wolverines, and went to the national championship with Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas and Mitch McGary his freshman season. He will be one of the oldest prospects in the draft, but at 22 years old would be around the same age as most of the Nuggets young core (Jusuf Nurkic is two days older). He has missed time with two injuries, with stress fractures to his left foot in back-to-back seasons. That injury history is a major red flag as the draft approaches, which in combination with his age may cause him to slide out of the lottery despite his production.

And oh, how nice that production has been. He has scored 1,000 points in his college career, and is averaging 17/5/5 this year with a 55/45/80 percentage line. He is a primary option for the Wolverines offense, and is capable of being the ballhandler in pick and roll. He has good court vision, and is a capable passer. He uses his length to battle for rebounds, and likes taking the ball up the court to create transition opportunities after grabbing loose balls. He could add some strength to help him improve as a defender, but he's capable of guarding 1-3. His height and length help him on closeouts, and his quickness helps him recover if the defender decides to drive.

He's an excellent shooter, having shot above 40 percent on 3-point attempts and above 76 percent on free throw attempts his last three seasons. He is taking about 33 percent of his shots near the rim, and converting at a 77 percent rate, according to hoop-math.com/. He is taking about 40 percent of his shots from behind the arc, with about 30 percent of those attempts coming off the dribble (an assisted 3-point attempt rate of 66.5 percent). He's shooting 44.6 percent on 3-point attempts, with 65 attempts through 14 games and 29 makes. His combination of free throw shooting and 3-point shooting projects well for his NBA shooting, with one model projecting LeVert as a 38 percent shooter from behind the arc.

If LeVert is available when the Nuggets second first-round pick comes up, they should consider adding him to their team. The Nuggets don't need to resign Randy Foye, and LeVert would be a good fit in the second unit alongside Jameer Nelson and Will Barton in the backcourt. The Nuggets really need a role player that can keep opposing guards from penetrating with ease, and his outside shooting and ability to attack the rim make him a player that can contribute without having the ball in his hands. LeVert may not ever be an All-Star, and he comes with significant injury risk, but for a team where he projects for 20-25 minutes a game, that risk is minimized. At worst he is good chemistry player that can provide shooting off the bench. At best, he's a Batum-clone, a starter that plays 35 minutes a game and somehow finishes with 12 points, five rebounds, five assists, and few steals and blocks, and is on the court for the final possession.

Other Stiffs Prospects to Watch:

Grayson Allen

Demetrius Jackson

Nigel Hayes

Ivan Rabb

Buddy Hield

Jamal Murray