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Should Michigan's Caris LeVert Enter His Name In the NBA Draft?

Caris LeVert has an incredibly tough decision this offseason. The junior's season was cut short with a foot injury, but LeVert still has a shot at being a first round pick.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The past few seasons Michigan hasn't had to worry about which players might go to the NBA Draft at this stage in March. The Wolverines made the National Championship game followed by the Elite Eight in consecutive seasons, and some turnover to the NBA was obvious. With a 16-16 season in the rear view mirror and a look to the glimmering bright future now upon us, one Michigan player has a chance to play at the next level. Whether or not he chooses to bolt Ann Arbor after his junior season, it would hard to fault Caris LeVert either way.

Whether LeVert can actually play and contribute to an NBA team is one of the biggest questions facing the junior during this final month before the deadline, but it is certainly not the only question that LeVert has to ponder while making the decision. We delve into four of the most important questions that could weigh on his decision.

Making a Mark in Ann Arbor

On the 2013 runner-up team, Caris LeVert was a bench player who had a big role in the Final Four game against Syracuse, but was relegated to a minor role playing behind Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Nik Stauskas for the majority of the season. Hardaway, Jr. was the veteran, a junior with a knack for a big shot and a huge personality that could turn Crisler from a classical concert into a punk rock festival with his signature 3-pointer followed by a roaring yell. Stauskas took the more conservative route his freshman year, sticking to the role of corner 3 marksman before turning into cocky, lovable gunner throughout the NCAA Tournament.

LeVert, unlike these two, has not quite found his signature takeover moment yet in Ann Arbor. There are undeniably flashes of brilliance, but does LeVert have the swagger to go with it? LeVert is a markedly better player than Jordan Morgan, but Michigan fans will remember the toughness and showmanship of both Morgan and Zack Novak despite both players being undersized frontcourt players. LeVert has a chance to be a four-year senior that will go down as one of the most beloved Michigan players if he stays, something that very few talented players in today's college game get the chance to do as seniors. He and Spike Albrecht could lead one of the most talented four-year classes ever, and that could be enticing enough to stay.

Greener Pastures in the NBA?

It is the goal of every young basketball player growing up to make the NBA. What that dream doesn't have, however, is the pitfalls and bumps that occur once a player makes the NBA. Players like Stauskas and Trey Burke that could seemingly do everything in college go to the NBA and realize they are not as invincible as they once were. While Michigan's entire starting five from that 2012-13 team is currently in the NBA, there is a realistic chance that both Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III could legitimately be out of the NBA in a year or two if their play does not improve. Stauskas has been given chances in Sacramento, but Robinson was traded from the end of the bench in Minnesota to the end of the bench in Philadelphia.

Would LeVert be able to even make an impact his first year in the NBA? He has the same body type as shooter Klay Thompson, but LeVert isn't near the shooter or creator as Thompson. Is there a chance that LeVert could be drafted at the end of the first round and have to spend an entire year in the D-League on a non-guaranteed contract playing in front of significantly less fans than he would in Ann Arbor? LeVert has the talent to make a roster, but there is a chance he might not be able to translate his game and impress NBA GMs. As a reference point, here are the stats this season for the 5 Michigan players that entered the NBA Draft before their senior year (points, rebounds, assists, minutes per game):

Nik Stauskas: 4.1 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 0.7 APG, 14.5 MPG, 61 games

Glenn Robinson: 1.1 PPG, 0.5 RPG, 0.2 APG, 4.4 MPG, 26 games

Mitch McGary: 7.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 0.4 APG, 15.4 MPG, 21 games

Trey Burke: 12.7 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 4.4 APG, 30.4 MPG, 69 games

Tim Hardaway: 11.3 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 1.7 APG, 23.5 MPG, 63 games

For reference, Trey Burke was the National Player of the Year in 2013, Stauskas was the 8th pick, McGary and Hardaway were also first rounders, and Glenn Robinson was a second round pick. None of the numbers jump off the page, and LeVert;s college career to this point is pointing in the direction of Glenn Robinson and Stauskas-esque numbers in his first year in the NBA. Not exactly promising.

Is There a Stigma With Being a College Senior That Hasn't Declared?

This is one of my favorite debates for college players every year. Some players feel that staying in college until their senior year means they are not good enough to play in the NBA up to that point, so why would they be good enough to play after their senior year? Others believe that being in college for a final year allows them to complete their degree, be a leader of their team, and be able to say that they spent four years at the university they love and cherish. Senior day is one of the most emotional experiences in all of sports, and you can't have senior day unless you get all the way to your senior year. Neither school of thought is wrong, but both could have outcomes that could potentially backfire.

The best example of staying in college for your senior year is former Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier. The current Miami Heat player exploded on the scene, leading his Huskies to the National Championship and earning himself a first round selection with the Miami Heat. Napier proved that this senior theory is more talk than anything else, and has had a productive season with Miami.

The worst example of this I can remember is West Virginia forward Da'Sean Butler. The senior was having a phenomenal year for Bob Huggins, and was able to beat #1 seed Kentucky and bring West Virginia to the Final Four. Butler was being mentioned as a potential lottery pick, far better than his draft stock the year before. In the Final Four game against Duke, Butler crumbled to the floor, tearing his ACL and ending his senior season. Rehabilitation took months, and Butler was drafted in the second round. He never was able to fully recover, and his NBA dream still hasn't been fully realized despite how successful he was in college.

These two are extreme ends of the spectrum, but LeVert could fall anywhere on this scale. He was unable to finish this season after having surgery on that same foot over the summer. This reoccurring injury could scare GMs in taking a first round pick on LeVert, and bumping him down to the second round would not be great for his confidence.

Does Michigan Have A Chance to Make a Run Next Year?

Here is the lineup for the last game of the season this year for Michigan:

PG

Spike Albrecht

Andrew Dakich

SG

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman

SF

Zak Irvin

Kameron Chatman

PF

Aubrey Dawkins

Mark Donnal

C

Max Bielfeldt

Ricky Doyle

And here is the projected lineup for Michigan if LeVert returns in 2015-16:

PG

Derrick Walton, Jr.

Spike Albrecht

SG

Caris LeVert

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman

SF

Zak Irvin

Duncan Robinson

PF

Aubrey Dawkins

Kameron Chatman/Moritz Wagner

C

Ricky Doyle

Mark Donnal/D.J. Wilson

Michigan's lineup is so much better next year than what they finished the season with. Players like Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman who were projected to be afterthoughts until their junior or senior year stepped up in major ways when the injury bug hit Michigan. The Wolverines will get an eligible Duncan Robinson after a redshirt year as a dynamite shooter off the bench, get to bring Spike and MAAR off the bench with him, and have Kam Chatman as potentially the 9th or 10th best player on a team in which very little will be asked of him. On paper, the lineup below has the ability to be one of the ten best teams in the entire country. Michigan has offered forward Moritz Wagner a scholarship for next year, as the 6'9 German could be in the mix for minutes if he accepts the Wolverines' scholarship.

But the most interesting piece that Michigan is still in the hunt for is Jaylen Brown, a gifted 6'7 wing that ESPN has as the second best player in the entire country. Brown is a game-changer, and if Brown commits then Michigan will have an NBA backcourt at its disposal with Spike, Dawkins and MAAR as the backcourt/wing bench options. They would jump from a borderline contender to a top-5 team with LeVert's return, a formidable force on both offense and defense. Even if Brown doesn't commit, this team will be loaded.

Overall

Caris LeVert will be drafted this summer if he enters the NBA Draft; that's the very short answer. Whether he'll be able to make an impact on an NBA roster next season, 3 years from now or ever remains to be seen, as his slender frame and mediocre jumpshot still remain a concern. He's an above average defender, but he's still missing that something to make him a legit NBA player.

If I'm LeVert, I'm taking the Frank Kaminsky route. Kaminsky had the ability to forgo his final year and go to the NBA, but instead returned to Wisconsin. The Badgers are one of the best teams in the country, a #1 seed in this year's NCAA Tournament, and are two games away from returning to the Final Four. Kaminsky wrote a letter explaining his decision, saying that college is the most fun time of your life. He didn't want to give it up, instead wanting to remain a goofball college kid while playing for a national title contender. LeVert has the same option on the table. It's up to him as to which route he'll choose.