Let's Start Again: Point Guard Comment Count

Brian April 4th, 2018 at 1:12 PM

an irregular series about next year's basketball team


[Marc-Gregor Campredon]


Zavier Simpson (Jr): Defensive maestro was head of the spear for #3 defense in the country. 105 ORTG isn't bad considering FT/3P issues, but 56% from two feels like a ceiling for a guy his size.

Eli Brooks (So): Started 12 games early in the year before receding. First season not real promising: 15% usage, A:TO ratio of 1:1, 41/25 shooting.

David DeJulius (Fr): Smallish sniper has mad Steph-alike game. Badly underrated by scouting services. Probably, anyway.


Can Simpson learn to shoot some?



Simpson's tour of destruction over the last third of the season culminated in a hamblasting of Naismith winner Jalen Brunson (9 points on 13 shot attempts, 2 A, 2 TO, 80 ORTG). He is a plus player and will be a starter for the rest of his career unless something crazy happens. That's good—see the TO-riddled bodies he left strewn in his wake—and bad—imagine a free throw.

Michigan's offensive ceiling is capped unless Simpson can ratchet up his shooting from the line and from three. There is precedent for this sort of thing under John Beilein. Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman hit 29% of his 41 threes as a freshman; the next year he hit 36% and stuck there for the duration of his career. However, the quantity of those shots kept increasing. MAAR went from 41 to 83 to 111 to 191 threes over the course of his career.

Simpson's already taken step one by going from a nonexistent three point shooter to an extant one, but the trend here isn't super encouraging. Simpson started the year hitting nearly half his shots; he finished it at 29%. His well-documented free throw struggles imply that his true shooting talent is real bad. The glimmer of hope here is that Simpson's new form at the end of the year saw him finish 24/42—57%—after starting 23/49—47%. That's pretty thin.

Does Eli Brooks take a sophomore Beilein point guard leap?


[JD Scott]

Few things are as consistent as a second-year Beilein point guard taking a quantum leap forward. Darius Morris, Trey Burke, and Zavier Simpson all improved radically as sophomores; the only reason Derrick Walton did not is that foot injury that first hampered him and then knocked him out midseason.

All those guys had a clear path to playing time, though. Brooks does not. He got only about 8 minutes a game last year, with the majority of those early in the season when the PG spot was still unsettled. Brooks could emerge into a solid rotation option… or flounder and get passed.

Jay Wright did confirm, apropos of nothing, that Villanova was after him hard and thought he was in the boat. So he's got that going for him. But if it doesn't happen now it's late early, because of the next guy.

How well, and how quickly, does David DeJulius translate?

Before Zavier Simpson's tour of destruction kicked off, most of the mutterings about Michigan's future at point guard were about DeJulius. This was because of Simpson's clear limitations and the crazy string of single-game highlight videos that DeJulius was pumping out:

DeJulius is a different kind of cat than Simpson. He evidently took the vast majority of his threes off the bounce as a senior, and while nobody covering high school basketball ever gives you a denominator, he is at least a large upgrade on Simpson from the free throw line.

I'm not saying he's Trey Burke, but… uh, the pattern here is pretty similar. Burke got dumped in the three star bin because of AAU struggles on a poor team and then torched Ohio as a senior. Nobody noticed and his ranking diverged from his talent. DDJ shot poorly for a version of The Family that was pretty short on talent before torching the state of Michigan. Nobody with a ranking wand has noticed. The main difference thus far is that Michigan voters are willing to overlook DDJ's head to head torching of Foster Loyer while Ohio takes its Mr. Basketball award seriously.

DeJulius isn't going to push Simpson out of a starting spot unless he actually is Trey Burke. It still seems likely that he's got a role to play. Maybe that's ten minutes, maybe that's 20.


Michigan's worst case scenario here is a static version of Simpson playing 35 minutes a game because his backups can't hack it. That's still pretty good—obligatory mention of Michigan's ranking on Torvik after he emerged as the starter—but if Wagner ends up entering the draft Michigan faces the prospect of starting three tenuous shooters in Simpson, Matthews, and Teske. That could make Michigan's offense tough to watch.

Excellent Scenario 1 is that Simpson inches up his shooting numbers to 60% from the line and 35% from three. Those are relatively modest gains that would make hack-an-X unprofitable and punish switching defenses more effectively.

Excellent Scenario 2 is that one of Brooks or DDJ is able to dent Simpson's minutes by being enough of an offensive upgrade to sustain the defensive downgrade. That would give Michigan options if they're down and need some offense or the opposition point guard isn't much of a threat or X is just having an off game. A Simpson that stays static but only has to play 20-25 minutes because Michigan has a second quality player would be fine.

Your author's guess is that Scenario 2 is the likely outcome, with DeJulius immediately demanding minutes.



April 4th, 2018 at 1:24 PM ^

I've never been super impressed with Brooks, but DeJulius looks like the real deal. One thing I like about him is that he's already physically developed, something that Brooks was not coming out of high school.

Point guard should be solid, but my question is more about who the secondary ball handler is on the court, because Abdur-Rahkman has been. I think Poole can do some of that, especially after a summer with Coach Sanderson.


April 4th, 2018 at 1:37 PM ^

I'm hopeful that Poole can take a Stauskas/Levert-type leap next year. He's already shown great potential with explosive drives, and he can shoot. He seems primed to emerge as a top-flight scoring option.

The added bonus here is that if Simpson can improve just a bit on 3s (say, to 33-35%) Michigan can run sets with Poole as the primary PnR ball-handler and Simpson in the corner, able to punish teams that leave him open. 


April 5th, 2018 at 11:03 AM ^

Elbow flung out to the side, ball in contact with his palm, and release point at his forehead.

I don't know how that can be fixed at age twenty as his form is broken in so many respects.

Love the guy's effort but would rather see him coming off the bench. Nova was playing at least 10-14' off him when we was on the weak side just daring UM to pass him the ball and hoping he would shoot.


April 4th, 2018 at 1:25 PM ^

Thought one: Beilein is a proven coach who can develop shooting in guys who previously didn't have it. He can rebuild Simpson's shot to get those modest gains Brian hopes for; forcing players to play up on him with mid-30s three-point range and adequate FT shooting would be gigantic. Beilein can do that.

Thought two: Some guys just can't shoot. It's not like it's just an issue of going to the gym and trying--guys like Shaq practiced free throws extensively without any real payoff. Guys like Ricky Rubio and Rajon Rondo (and, closer to home, Tum-Tum Nairn) were players because they were good but never ever developed a reliable shot despite considerable incentive and effort to do so.

The good news is that the floor is excellent here. Simpson can key a maniacal defense. The bad news is that if he doesn't improve his shooting the offense has a hard cap on it, and even if he continues to grow in his drives (already pretty good) his other flaws really limit his effectiveness there.

I'm hopeful for better shooting from Matthews and Livers. Outside chance that Teske takes a step here, too (didn't I hear a rumor that he is developing a three?). But we're going to need some deep threats.


April 4th, 2018 at 2:18 PM ^

we can count on Simpson inching up--maybe vastly improving--his FT shooting. I don't doubt that he can inch his 3-pt shooting higher, too. (Won't suddenly be able to shoot it off the bounce.)

But there's a subtler calculus at work, it seems to me. Toward the end of the season, in the B1G tourney, in the early games of the NCAAs, Simpson was beginning to figure out how to make layups against tall players. His whole demeanor changed, and he began to inch toward D Walt numbers (remembering that D Walt often struggled to make layups, too, until very late last year). When Simpson became hesitant in the last couple of games the room for maneuver of everyone else on the team shrank. 

So Simpson really was key, in my view, to the offensive struggles down the stretch, to a diminished sense of. . . vibrancy from the whole squad. When teams had to worry about him shooting OR driving the whole complexion of the offense changed. Long story short. . . Simpson's 3-pt shooting is not so readily separated from the rest.

Inch into territory where they have to respect him from three, he becomes truly confident driving the basketball, Simpson is elite. I don't doubt for a second that he can do it. And if that happens then what we get out of Brooks, DeJulius, and even Nunez, looks a lot more like pure gravy. 

Pepto Bismol

April 4th, 2018 at 2:42 PM ^

I noticed it against MSU and Purdue in the B1G tournament. You'd see a replay of MAAR or somebody driving the lane and another defender hesitatant to help because he didn't want to leave his shooter.  Only that shooter was Simpson. 

I said then that if teams start sagging off of Zavier, we could be in trouble. And that was the case all throughout the tournament.  I noticed it a few times, most notably against Villanova when we were trying to mount a 2nd half comeback of any sort. We had a really good possession that involved dribble drives and kick outs and the ball rotated around to a wide open Simpson who looked, paused and then backed it out to try to find another option.

There was no other option. He was the shot. That's the one we're working to get and he just didn't have the CONFIDENCE, let alone the ability to let it go. And that stalled the whole thing.  I don't remember the outcome of the possession, but you watched the game, it was probably crap.

If he can just find the ability to fire that open 3 and hit with regularity, then I really can't see how Brooks/DeJulius passes him without becoming a defensive beast in their own right.


April 4th, 2018 at 4:56 PM ^

I think Teske has a midrange jumper already.  It made a brief appearance in the Big Ten championship game.  The 3 is what he's reportedly working on.  Beilein has hinted that it could be part of his arsenal next year.


April 4th, 2018 at 1:25 PM ^

I hope Beilein has him in the gym as much as is allowed starting right now. His shot needs to be completely dismantled and rebuilt. The current version of X with the addition of a respectable shooting stroke would be the best PG in the B1G next season. Fingers crossed.

uncle leo

April 4th, 2018 at 1:32 PM ^

No tweaking, has to be overhauled. The massive jerkiness has to be removed and there needs to be a nice fluid motion developed. It can happen, but it's hard telling someone who's likely shot the same way his whole life that it doesn't work.


April 4th, 2018 at 1:55 PM ^

I’m honestly curious from those that have more expertise, but is it just the fluidity of his notion or even where his shots start? Maybe it’s just camera angles, but it always looks like he’s shooting from a starting point of his chest (or lower). It always reminded me of how people shot in grade school that they eventually evolved from. Am I way off?

uncle leo

April 4th, 2018 at 2:08 PM ^

Two things:

-There's a noticeable hitch, especially when he shoots a FT. When he brings the ball up to his eye level, he almost readjusts his aim. You watch anyone with good form, elbows in, start high, raise up, release. It's very "un-fluid."

And yes, the starting point has to be changed too. And his height has nothing do to with it. 


April 4th, 2018 at 2:47 PM ^

that's why I'm skeptical. we said the same about zak irvin's form, and Beilein did not rework it. he only tweaked it, and zak was broken for it. I think it's fair to say Beilein can improve shooting, but he is not a miracle worker


April 4th, 2018 at 4:56 PM ^

Irvin's shot looked wonky because it started at his hip and swung across his body before he got to his release, but his release was fundamentally sound. His shooting elbow was always under the ball and his follow-through brought consistently great rotation on the ball.

X pushes the ball off his chest, which makes it impossible to square his elbow under the ball before it is released. It also makes it difficult for him to put good rotation on the ball because it is being flung away from his face instead of being released over his head.

One of the best Dakich-isms from this season was "great shooters only miss long or short." X misses in every direction because his elbow isn't square. His elbow isn't square because he flings the ball forward from his chest instead of raising it up and shooting off his shoulder.

Zak's shot was a little wonky, but X is completely broken.


April 4th, 2018 at 1:28 PM ^

First, I don't remember this series from the past, but I am pumped to read the next few installments.  If Mo does come back, we should be even better next year than this year.

As to point guard, I expect that X will spend the next 6-8 month locked in a gym doing nothing but working on his shooting motion.  Will be suddenly become Stauskas?  No.  But, I expect his FT number to get up to around 60% and his 3-pt percentage to break 33%.  Not offensive weapon numbers, but also numbers that don't make him an offensive liability.  

As good as Simpson's defense is, his offense is currently such a liability that it caps our overall offense significantly.  One of the things that I notices during the tournement was that defenses showed Simpson's outside shot virtually no respect - on ball defenders played well off, limiting Simpson's ability to take it to the rim, and off ball defenders cheated off of him badly, making it more difficult for other to get open looks.  Simpson does not need to be an offensive star, but he needs to get his outside shot and FT shooting to a level where teams have to respect him on offense.

uncle leo

April 4th, 2018 at 1:38 PM ^

And I don't think it's been discussed all that much with Simpson. He really needs to work on his passing. Those assist totals need to increase big time. It felt like there were 5 straight possessions against Loyola where he got the ball on the break and threw it over someone's head or at their knees. I think it's a part of his game that needs work as well.

His athleticism and defensive prowess doesn't need to be fine tuned at all. Focus on the shot and making crisper passes. 

uncle leo

April 4th, 2018 at 1:46 PM ^

He was at 3.7 APG. For a point guard, that's very low. That total needs to come up, at least 1.5-2. 

I watched the same team you did all year, and it never really crossed my mind that he's a great passer. He gets the job done well enough, but it needs to improve. And I think it will.



April 4th, 2018 at 5:09 PM ^

He was at 3.7 APG. For a point guard, that's very low. That total needs to come up, at least 1.5-2.

Keep in mind two things:

1) Simpson didn't start the whole season. He averaged 26.5 minutes per game overall. At his assist rate, if he'd averaged 35 minutes a game like MAAR did, he'd have been getting five assists a night.

2) He played on a team that simply didn't shoot that well.  


April 4th, 2018 at 1:53 PM ^

But I highly doubt Simpson will become an effective shooter and look for someone to take the starting role away. Simpson could lead the second unit along with some instant offense type players off the bench to balance him out.

I think people are downplaying how BAD the offense was during the tourney.Overall offense is hampered too much with him on the floor as everyone sags off him. Given his lack of off the dribble shooting, end of shot clock time with him on the ball usually spells trouble and even if he were to get by his man its easy to foul him and give up 1 or 0 points on the posession. There were some crushing TOs late in the title game. Simpson shooting a 3 is basically a TO as well esp when you consider that almost anyone else on the team shooting it is a better look. IMO, he didn't do great to find a shooter. I just don't remember a lot of drive a kicks from him, its either pick and pass to pick man or drive all the way.

The comparison to MAAR is off IMO. Just need to look at Simpsons FT woes. Unless you completely break and re-create his entire shot (and he buys in) he will be limited.   MAAR has never been worse than 70% from the FT line. He actually has/had a shooting stoke, when Simpson shoots it looks weak from the get-go.

again, hope I am wrong and he can turn the corner. Would prefer to see a quick guard with same tenacity for D (which is as much desire as skill) step in that can also hit a 3. Need at least a 3 and D type at PG if we can't get the total package.

If Simpson starts the next few years we have to have 4 other 40% 3pt shooters on the floor with him.


April 4th, 2018 at 2:07 PM ^

On the contrary, people are overplaying Simpson’s offensive shortcomings.

Defense is half the game. PGs have even more defensive impact than their teammates since he guards the ball and thus can disrupt the entire flow. Aaron Craft likewise had major offensive limitations, but OSU won a lot of games with that dude.

It’s easy to point at Simpson because a broke jumper is an obvious deficiency, but you win on both ends. Even after this season, people still struggle to see that.


April 4th, 2018 at 2:49 PM ^

oh I agree and am glad that Belein showed a willingess to roll with players despite the fact that they cannot shoot bc of their strong defense being such a plus. Before this season I would have said NO way coach played a Matthews and Simpson so much(not sure he had a choice this year). Glad he did though and glad that we succeeded doing it so that he would value D in the future as well and not go 100% O.

I'm just saying that Simpsons lack of offense also hurts teammates on that side of the ball. Just like his defense helps others teamamtes on that side. If we have 4 shooters on O we can overcome that. This year we did not and had to grind A LOT of games. Not sure we will next year since we lose our two best shooters.

I'm of the mind that D is less a skill than desire. So I think it is easier to find someone who can shoot even a little bit and also has that tenacity on D then it is to get Simpson to be a 40%/70% guy. IMO that will never happen.


If I was a betting man I would bet Simpson does not start everygame from here on out. I don't think Belien can break his tendancies 2 more years in a row. We'll see





True Blue Grit

April 4th, 2018 at 3:15 PM ^

I think though if Simpson DOES improve his shooting and FTs next year, he will start every game.  He's too valuable on the defensive end of the floor.  That doesn't mean he'll play 35 minutes a game either.  I could see Beilein putting 2 PG's in at the same time sometimes, and maybe putting Poole as a 3.  Depends on who we're playing.  

Ghost of Fritz…

April 4th, 2018 at 11:07 PM ^

Everything you and others are posting about how Simpson's offensive limitions puts a ceiling on the entire offense is true. 

Yet this team still set a Michigan record for victories. 

I am not disagreeing with any of the points the people are making in this thread about the general limits of the offense, and how a big part of those limits begin with opponents not having to respect Simpson's shooting.  

In other words, if you just look at the offensive skill set of the players, this is an offense that should not have worked.  But it more of less did work.  It was not a terrible offensive team.  It was a decent offensive team with a top 3 defense. 

Beilein got the absolute most out of the skills of the guys he had on the offensive side  And on different nights different guys would carry the offense--Wagner, Matthews, MAAR in certain games.


April 5th, 2018 at 7:01 AM ^

But don't forget that we WON a lot of games.  More than we ever did when we had a stable of hot three point shooters.  Playing tenacious defense is a winning formula, and Simpson was a huge part of that.  Look at all the teams with multiple first round draft picks that didn't do as well as we did in the tournament.


April 4th, 2018 at 3:34 PM ^

This current team also had pieces to somewhat mask his deficiencies. You had three proven shooters who played heavy minutes, and MAAR served as a secondary playmaker. Assuming Wagner is gone, no proven shooters return (I'm not ready to throw Poole in the proven basket yet when the difference between his percentage and Matthews' was literally 6 makes), and while Matthews has a bit of playmaking capability, he hasn't proven it yet. This isn't solely a Simpson issue, but it's not hard to envision there being a major spacing issue next year.


April 5th, 2018 at 7:12 AM ^

But if you look at Big Ten stats, MAAR and Robinson both shot around 37% on threes.  That's good, but hardly irreplaceable.  Poole and Livers were both better, and with a decent number of attempts.  Add in Iggy, Nunez, DeJulius and Johns next year and assume Matthews and Simpson will be at least marginally better, and our shooting should not be a problem.


April 5th, 2018 at 11:22 AM ^

Livers and Poole also went a combined 5-30 from three over the BTT and NCAA Tournament as role players (granted, they were far from alone in shooting struggles). You can always forecast improvement (and I agree they should be better), but forecasting how they'll perform in bigger roles isn't the same as being proven. Also, even with talented freshmen, they're still freshmen. You have to be in wait and see mode with them. Matthews has the potential to be a better shooter, whether he gets there remains to be seen. Simpson, on the other hand, probably is who he is as a shooter, and Teske is unlikely to be someone who can stretch the floor. Even assuming you get better shooting from Poole, Livers, and Matthews, you still have Teske and Simpson as guys who won't command space/attention from the defense. This is all before you get to the loss of MAAR as a secondary ballhandler. It could very well be that shooting does become more consistent next year, but we can't pretend like it's settled at this point.


April 4th, 2018 at 3:19 PM ^

No one is downplaying our offense in the tournament, but to put that all on Simpson is bizarre. Rahk did not have a very good tournament. Moe had a very inconsistent tournament. Duncan didn't do much. Poole got his minutes cut from the end of the season.

I also think Simpson can very easily hit 70% from the line because it's largely a mental thing and that's what he shot as a freshman. All he needs is a minor upgrade from 3 and continued ability to finish near the hoop despite his height.

Regardless, his defensive impact on our final fifteen game stretch and conference play cannot be undervalued. I expect Poole, Matthews and Livers improvement plus Brazdeikis to more than make up for Wagner offense, and because of that, Zavier's defense is going to be very highly valued again. As Brian said, he's our starting PG for the next two years, and that's a good thing.


April 4th, 2018 at 3:27 PM ^

I think your prediction that Simpson will not improve his 3P% significantly is likely to be accurate, and highlighting the FT% differential between Simpson and MAAR puts a jsutifiable hole in that line of thinking. However, we just finished as a Top 10 team in overall efficiency (Top 3 after Simpson took over?), so you cannot make a good case that Simpson's offensive shortcomings override his defensive contribution to the point where he can't be the starter.

Citing the poor offense during the tourney as further reason for benching him is also off base. He certainly contributes to it, but the team collectively shot poorly, and I would contend that that had little to do with any effects of a sagging defense. 

The portion of your argument that does have some merit to me is highlighting the need for shooters around him. With the presumed loss of Wagner, I think there could be an issue there but there are other work arounds besides benching an all-conference defender in favor of unproven options.



April 4th, 2018 at 3:34 PM ^

Only one team ends the year without feeling the need to do a lot of soul searching. Villanova is that team this year. However, I think we're giving a lot more scrutiny to Z's offensive insufficiencies than we have to the defensive insufficiencies of past PGs. Our offense was stagnant in the tourney - no argument. Yet, we still made it to the championship game. The freakin' national championship game... and this dude, as a sophomore, was the leader of the defensive effort. He shut down everything in his path, including the national player of the year.

I agree that the team cannot reach its peak performance without an uptick in Z's offense. However, I don't recall us ever giving as much scrutiny to past teams/players that were defensive sieves on teams that weren't nearly as successful as this one. Let's give Z the credit and respect he deserves. He'll be just fine if he puts even half the effort to improve his offensive game this summer as he does to stymy his foes on defense. And plus, Beilein.

We got this.