Zavier Simpson is the emotional leader of a Michigan team with aspirations of crashing the Final Four for the second consecutive season. He’s arguably the best defensive point guard in the country, playing bigger than his 6’ frame because of an unwavering mentality to put the opposing ball handler in a straight jacket. If you ask Big Ten coaches, he might be the most valuable player in the conference.
Simpson has found these accolades on his own terms, acting as a driving force behind Michigan’s success this season despite often being the smallest player on the court while struggling to shoot threes and even free throws. He has overcome all of that largely because of an unrelenting mindset that pushes his body and his teammates to the extreme of their capabilities.
It also doesn’t hurt that he might have the most devastating hook shot in college basketball.
Simpson gave Maryland an up close look at a shot that’s quickly becoming infamous throughout the sport. He connected on five hook shots during Michigan’s 69-62 road win over the Terrapins on Sunday, even hitting a couple over Maryland’s hulking center Bruno Fernando.
This isn’t just a one-game fluke for Simpson — it’s a season-long trend that is backed up by statistics.
Per Bart Torvik’s stat site, Simpson uses the hook as effectively as any player in America who has taken it at least 20 times. He’s also the only player on this list who is under 6’7:
Hook shot leaders, min. 20 attempts, update: pic.twitter.com/x5OjIXwrJP— Bart T rvik (@totally_t_bomb) March 4, 2019
Simpson’s hooks aren’t a luxury for Michigan anymore — they’re becoming a necessity. The Wolverines started 1-for-11 from three-point range on Sunday, but stayed afloat in part because of Simpson’s penchant for impossible shots. As starting wings Jordan Poole and Ignas Brazdeikis have run hot-and-cold in conference play, Simpson’s inside scoring touch has helped pace a Michigan team that has shifted in identity from an offensive powerhouse to a defensive behemoth.
Please, delight in this Zavier Simpson hook shot compilation
College basketball has a way of turning young men into folk heroes. That’s exactly what’s happening right now to Simpson. Since taking over the starting point guard gig in January 2018, Michigan basketball has been as successful as any program in the country.
You can count a Big Ten regular-season title, conference tournament title, a trip to the Final four and an appearance in the national title game among the program’s accomplishments since Simpson took over. You can also point to a 17-0 start to this season and a likely No. 1 or No. 2 seed heading into the Big Dance.
While the accomplishments are impressive by themselves, it’s the moments inside of them that push Simpson into the territory of legends.
“I still can hear his voice when he wasn’t on the floor,” said sophomore forward Isaiah Livers after the Maryland win. “And you knew when he comes on the court, there’s gonna be some intensity.”
There’s so much more where that came from.
“He’s our pit bull,” Michigan forward Isaiah Livers said. “When he’s in the game, it’s not just him guarding his man. He does all the intangibles. He’ll help box out a big man down low if he sees him struggling. He’ll go grab that 50-50 ball. And one-on-one iso defense, you’re not going to get past Zavier.”
There’s this story relayed from Livers in the preseason, too:
ICYMI, my story from yesterday on Zavier Simpson, ft: this anecdote from Isaiah Livers pic.twitter.com/qQlaZuikgF— Ethan Sears (@ethan_sears) March 4, 2019
Simpson’s shortcomings as a player make him even more endearing. His effective field goal percentage is sub-50 percent on the season. He’s shooting below 30 percent from three for the second year in a row. He’s improved his free-throw percentage from 51 percent to 66 percent this year, which has been a massive development, but still below what most programs want from their point guard.
Even still, Simpson thrives. He is the epitome of a Coach On The Floor, the type that will get in your face for a mistake and build you back up after a good play. If he’s not Michigan’s best player, he often feels like their most important one.
Simpson even has fans trying to emulate his hook shot:
Zion Williamson and his NBA-bound peers capture so much of the college basketball coverage every year, but it’s players like Simpson who make the sport special. Only a junior, there’s still time for Simpson to be properly appreciated.
Get familiar now. When that undersized point guard is hitting hook shots and locking up your point guard in the NCAA tournament, just know it isn’t a fluke.