For a while now, it’s been evident that Michigan coach Juwan Howard has transformed the Wolverines’ offense to live by one principle: If you’re open, shoot your shot.
This wheeling-and-dealing style of play has led to a much faster-paced Michigan team that consistently runs the score up far past season averages of years past. While the philosophy clearly favors the team’s best shooters in its application, any guard who is not known for his prolific shooting ability may be placed in an uncomfortable situation, stuck between wanting to take the open shot and wanting to generate the most high-percentage opportunity for the team.
Over the course of this season, this has been the predicament of senior guard Zavier Simpson.
Simpson — assuredly not known for his shooting prowess — has been trapped between the decision to take the open 3-point shot or carry on with one of the other options he is more comfortable with, including driving to the hoop or finding another open man.
But in an unexpected development, the veteran guard has added an effective 3-point shot to his arsenal, elevating the Wolverines’ offense. The senior made this addition even more apparent on Wednesday, when he hit two threes in the opening four minutes to ignite Michigan’s offense in its eventual 60-52 win over Rutgers.
To be sure, this is unlike any development Simpson has shown before. While the team captain has shown progress and diversified his skill set with each year on the team, his shooting was always a sore spot.
For instance, after his sophomore season, Simpson added a now-patented hook shot to his shot selection. Simpson’s main source of offense came around the rim where he would consistently drive to the basket, so this shot — while unconventional — was in the realm of possibility given his skillset.
But 3-point shooting? That was somebody else’s problem.
Before this season, Simpson was a career 28.5 percent 3-point shooter. But the senior has taken great strides and is shooting a respectable 37 percent from beyond the arc — enough to add a paragraph in the scouting report about his shooting ability. It’s clear, though, that this uptick not only in the amount of 3s taken per game but the amount of makes stems from Howard.
“Every shot that goes in is important, but it’s good to see the ball go in,” Howard said. “When they went under the screen, he was wide open. I wanted him to take it. If he would’ve missed those two shots, I would say take the third shot. Any player, when they see the ball go in, it becomes an ocean sometimes.”
The increase in 3-point shots could be attributed to confidence, as Howard suggests — confidence in his own shot selection, confidence from his coaches — or it could be the natural marriage of muscle memory and instincts. After all, the amount of 3-pointers Simpson has taken in practice or just shooting around over the years is essentially an incalculable number.
Perhaps that is why this new development is not as surprising to his teammates and coaches.
“It’s nothing new, he’s a smart enough player to know where the reads are,” Howard said. “Any time a guy steps off you and you’re able to line it up, massage the ball, line the seams up and shoot it, it’s great.
“He was confident enough to take the shot; the ball went in.”