There were never any doubts about Michigan guard Zavier Simpson’s defensive prowess.
Rather, any concerns seemed to center around his shooting ability. That’s why this offseason there will be an increased focus on Simpson’s jump shot.
“We just want to go back to ground zero to work on his mechanics,” Quincey Simpson, Zavier’s father who coached him throughout his childhood and at Lima (Ohio) Senior High, told the News earlier this week. “Get his release point higher — getting that left hand off the ball so much and having that window available for him — and then try to perfect the mid-range game.
“Obviously, he's not shooting the ball the same way he was coming out of high school. He’s not shooting it the same way he was last season, so we're just trying to get that repetition back — muscle memory, fluency, that relaxation when he shoots.”
As the backup point guard his freshman season, Simpson shot 37.2 percent from the field (45.8 percent on 2-pointers and 26.3 percent on 3-pointers).
Last season as a starter in 29 of Michigan’s 41 games, his numbers saw an uptick to 46.7 percent from the floor, including 56.2 percent from inside the arc and 28.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Simpson was one of Michigan’s top 3-point shooting threats midway through the Big Ten slate this year at 44.7 percent before he hit a wall and shot just 15.2 percent over the final 18 games.
While the heavy minutes and long season could’ve factored into the significant falloff, Quincey Simpson said he didn’t notice anything different in Zavier’s jump shot itself and noted it’s nothing he’s too concerned about.
Instead, his primary concern will be adding a mid-range piece to Simpson’s repertoire.
“All his shots were 3s or layups this past season,” said Quincey Simpson, who is the program director of Ohio’s C2K Elite AAU program. “Obviously, teams will play him on the drive and see if he can make shots, but if he's got the mid-range down pat and he's got all three levels then he's pretty much unstoppable to guard.”
The work is already underway as the two have started routines to help Zavier get more arc on the ball — an emphasis on shooting up rather than outward — get his shot off quicker and create his own shot off the dribble.
“It just takes a while to get used to. A lot of times when people change something in their game and it doesn't work for them right away, they always resort back to old habits,” Quincey Simpson said. “So, what we're doing is try to get him to understand the method of you got to be willing to miss a lot of shots in order to make a lot of shots. If it's not working today, it doesn't mean it's not going to work next week.
“It's definitely not an overnight fix. It's more of a confidence thing, but we're going to keep working at it and I haven’t seen too many people who is as self-motivated as him.”
The one area Simpson saw a decline was at the foul line, where he particularly struggled in late-game situations. He shot a team-worst 51.6 percent on free throws this past season, down from 71 percent his freshman year.
Michigan coach John Beilein switched up Simpson’s free-throw routine late in the season, having him dribble the ball off to his right and slightly altering his motion. After the change, Simpson shot 57.1 percent from the line compared to 46.9 percent before.
Quincey Simpson said Zavier’s free-throw approach will also be an area of emphasis and will likely be tweaked a little bit.
“He went through a slump this season and I think it became more of a mental thing for him,” he said. “Like I told him, deep breath, routine, shot. Don't spend a lot of time overthinking it. Whatever his routine is, it's got to be comfortable for him.”
And if Simpson’s free throw numbers are able to revert back to his freshman year along with a newfound mid-range game, his offense could make foes as uncomfortable as his defense next season.
“I think his ceiling is glass. It's going to be as high as he wants it to be with the work that he's investing in to it,” Quincey Simpson said. “We want to take your game to another level, so let's get back in the gym and work … Fortunately, he's bought into it and that's why he's been successful his entire life.”