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The Caris LeVert trade deadline conundrum

What happens with LeVert, last year’s trade deadline swing, this year?

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Washington Wizards Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

When Caris LeVert was acquired at the 2022 trade deadline, there was an unreasonable amount of expectations placed on his shoulders.

LeVert’s presence was a dire need for a young Cavaliers squad reeling off losing one of their stalwarts that season in Ricky Rubio for the season. LeVert was expected to come in and carry that offensive load and be the release valve for Darius Garland. For a variety of reasons (injury, easing in, awkward lineups, and shooting woes) it didn’t quite work.

This season provided another challenge for LeVert to work through. A constant flux in roles and lineups (whether due to injury or team needs) has left him as unsettled as ever. As the most “enticing” trade piece the Cavs’ have heading into the 2023 deadline, it seems that Caris could be on the move for the second straight deadline. However, just because LeVert is the most movable piece does not necessarily mean that the Cavaliers need to get desperate.

LeVert’s best attribute is his scoring, but that’s not always been the case in Cleveland. The 2022-23 Cavaliers this season do not need that independent ball-dominant scorer when they have both Garland and Donovan Mitchell performing this role at an All-Star level. Rubio is back too.

I think any player that made a career out of this playstyle would struggle to transition to this secondary or even sometimes tertiary style will take time to adapt. We are watching LeVert try to find his foot in real time. Oh, and he’s in a contract year.

Per basketball-refernece, this season is LeVert’s lowest usage since the 2017-18 season. He’s also not as efficient as he’s been. LeVert is currently in the 20th percentile in the NBA for points per shot attempt (104 points per 100 shot attempts). Yet despite this shooting efficiency, he is on pace to play the most minutes in his career.

With the slew of Cavaliers that have gone down due to injury, LeVert’s number has been called to fill a plethora of roles. LeVert to start the year was the starting three to provide the team with some catch-and-shoot ability while also being a release valve for the star guards.

While on paper that made sense, it did not translate to the best play with Caris offensively struggling to generate around the rim. With a career low in two-point FG percentage (44%) it almost felt like you didn’t see the pathway for LeVert to generate points for a Cavaliers team that finds itself looking for contributors on a night-to-night basis. His impact on the floor statistically speaking is also not the best optics-wise.

That said, LeVert is finding ways to contribute. There have been many times this season Caris has been around 10 assists on lower usage. LeVert is way above the positional average on assist percentage (17.8%) as well as ranking in the 84 percentile in the NBA. LeVert is also in a lot of net positive lineups which implies while he statistically is in one of his least efficient seasons offensively, he’s doing something that helps.

If it were up to me, I would keep Caris and wait and see what marginal moves can be made at the deadline by dangling seconds and players of the ilk of Dylan Windler and Robin Lopez. The problem there is their salary numbers are low and don’t match up with the level of player Cleveland has been interested in — Atlanta’s Bogdan Bogdanovic, Portland’s Josh Hart, etc.

LeVert is slowly showing his worth and getting him more minutes in what could turn into the healthiest season of his career is worth the risk to me. LeVert’s stock is too low and seems to be viewed more as an expiring than a player of value. The Cavalier could use this to their advantage in the upcoming free agency period when negotiating a new deal.

When you take the 10,000-foot look at LeVert you can truly notice the positives he brings to the team in other facets than scoring, even if it’s imperfect. That presents the Cavs with interesting questions at the trade deadline.