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Player Profile: Why Zavier Simpson might be perfect leader for Juwan Howard’s transition

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The Wolverines will look to Simpson for veteran leadership in 2019.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - West Regional - Anaheim Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Senior point guard Zavier Simpson, from Lima, Ohio, will be the first player that we examine in our new Player Profile series. Starting on October 21, the team here at Maize N Brew will break down every player that we feel will make an impact on the Michigan roster this season.

Here is a deep dive into the career of Simpson, and the role he will play in 2019.

What we know so far

Simpson committed to the play for John Beilein in Ann Arbor in September of 2015 and was later named Mr. Basketball in the state of Ohio and a second-team All-American. He was the 4-star centerpiece of the No. 31 class in 2016 that included guard Ibi Watson (who later transfered) and centers Austin Davis and Jon Teske.

As a freshman, Simpson solidified the backup point guard role playing behind Derrick Walton Jr. He played in 38 games, and averaged 1.6 points and an assist per game. While there wasn’t much to scout there from him, fans knew that he would be the point guard of the future and the floor general of the future that John Beilein consistently created in his tenure at Michigan.

In his second year with the program, Simpson became the starter at the point guard position and was an important part of the Big Ten Tournament championship run, and the unforgettable trip to the National Championship game that fell short in a tough loss to the Villanova Wildcats.

Simpson was a solid leader at the point guard position, even as a sophomore. He ran Beilein’s offense perfectly while averaging 7.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists in his first year as a starter. Fans critiqued the daylights out of him after a subpar end of the season defensively, a poor free throw percentage (51.6 percent) and struggles that he had on offense as a creator.

So heading into the 2018, Simpson was determined to change that. He developed one of the smoothest shots ever seen from a 5-foot-11 point guard with a nasty Kareem Abdul-Jabaar-style hook shot:

Simpson was also one of the top defensive players in the country last season as he led the Big Ten in defensive win shares (how many wins a team gets based on a players defensive contributions) with a score of 3.2. That number was good for the best in the Big Ten conference.

Fans also enjoyed seeing improvement from behind the arc last season as Simpson shot 30.8 percent from deep after shooting just 28.6 percent the year prior. Over the past two season, Simpson would be left wide open from deep because he was not a threat of shooting whatsoever, and it hurt the offense greatly. This is probably the most scrutinized part of Simpson’s game and what he needs serious improvement with if he wants a career at the next level. Even the best of floor general point guards won’t play in the NBA with his size and a clear inability to put points on the board (still only 8.8 points per game).

His role in 2019-2020

Zavier Simpson is exactly the brand of a basketball player that Juwan Howard needed coming into this first season as the Michigan Wolverines head coach.

Simpson is a leader on and off the court in Ann Arbor. Last year, Beilein relied heavily on the outstanding basketball IQ that Simpson has, and even said that he helped improve new plays that Beilein had in the system.

For a new coach without any head coaching experience like Howard, Simpson should be heavily relied on to get a players perspective with the X’s and O’s.

Howard told Mike Mulholland from MLive, “I wish we could have Zavier longer than one year. The kid is an excellent leader, a great competitor, a winner. In practice he wants to win every drill. In shooting, he wants to win every drill. That’s the type of guy you want in the trenches with you.”

On the court, a decent uptick in points, rebounds, and assists per game might be on the way as the Wolverines learn to play without their leading scorer from last season, Ignas Brazdeikis, along with Jordan Poole and Charles Matthews no longer being with the program. That’s a lot of shots that will need to be replaced by somebody, and Simpson may be one of those guys.

In the same article by Mulholland, Howard praises Simpson’s improvement in terms of his shooting performance: “Everyone always talks about his limited shooting, he’s been working extremely hard on his shooting. A lot of our shooting drills, at times he has the best scores -- he has the highest number, the best shooting percentage. Now it’s about feeding him more and more confidence, let him relax and play.”

The Michigan basketball team will be much better if this is true. A solid leader with 116 games of experience under his belt including a National Championship with an improved shot should be a very important piece of Howard’s team in 2019-2020.