From the beginning, Xavier Simpson was going to face some questions about his size. The Lima (Ohio) product frequently gets listed at 5-10 and somewhere south of 160 pounds, making him both shorter and slighter than many of his contemporaries.
But also from the beginning, Simpson proved he could compete with the best players in his class. A strong 2014 summer attracted serious interest from Xavier, Ohio State and Michigan State, clearly a strong trio of schools to be tracking a rising junior.
He maintained his momentum heading into the 2015 travel season. By this past spring, he had drawn offers from Xavier, Butler, Illinois, Purdue, Northwestern, Iowa and Iowa State. In other words, Simpson became the epitome of a regional high-major target.
He hit the road with the King James Shooting Stars on the EYBL circuit and demonstrated why he ranked among the country’s top 100 prospects. He averaged 16 points per game in 17 total contests and knocked down a solid 35 percent on threes.
Simpson also soared at the NBPA Top 100 Camp. At arguably (even likely) the most loaded event of the travel season, he shot the ball extraordinarily well at times, proving himself even further as a national talent. He also stepped up at the Peach Jam and cemented his reputation among the college coaches observing him during the July live period.
Through the summer he mostly kept the list he’d fielded in the spring. He ultimately made several visits: Illinois, Iowa State, Wisconsin and Michigan. Simpson pledged to the Wolverines on Wednesday and will give the program a talented, balanced floor general who’s likely to contribute for four seasons.
Interestingly, at least to those of us located outside his area, Simpson first garnered a reputation for being a cerebral playmaker. Said colleague Brian Snow last year:
”His very high basketball IQ is apparent and he is a very good passer who never seems to force anything.”
And that tendency continued to play out during the travel season, despite what seemed to be flashier showings as a scorer. Simpson performed dynamically at times at NBPA, as mentioned, but for King James he continued to fill a role.
Simpson attempted just three triples per game on the EYBL circuit despite the fact that, prior to the Peach Jam, he’d knocked down just under 40 percent on threes. He was forced to carry more of the scoring load for King James at that event, and to his credit he rose to the occasion by ramping up his scoring average to 19 points per contest.
So while he still must improve his consistency, there’s hardly much to critique in terms of his stroke. Simpson’s touch also is evident from the free throw line, given that he shot an incredible 27-29 (93 percent) in five games at the Peach Jam. And simply getting to the line that frequently illustrates his toughness and desire to win.
Simpson helped lift King James to the bracket rounds there, and then he pushed his squad to the championship at the Super Showcase.
He always impressed me with his willingness to play physically. When a player Simpson’s size averages more than four rebounds per game, the numbers speak for themselves.
He’s a fairly quick driver who proved he’s comfortable from the medium-range areas as a shooter, stopping short of the trees inside. That said, he sometimes varies his stride length to create some separation and keep shotblockers off-balance when he’s in the lane.
He also projects as a pesky defender as he gains strength for college, and his ability to serve as the lead playmaker confers maximum versatility to him as a point guard.
Size, of course. Simpson is small enough that certain, jumbo point guards are likely to cause him problems. They may be able to threaten his jump shot with their length and use their strength to prevent him from penetrating given that he’s a good, not great athlete.
Thinking long-term, however, the college game easily can accommodate a sub-six footer. A professional career will require him to become more of a true knockdown shooter, but promisingly he appears to be well on his way.
Simpson’s demonstrable prowess as a playmaker and winner should enable him to earn significant early playing time, albeit likely behind Derrick Walton. He’s also a blossoming shooter, though he’ll likely need to establish his reliability from long-range to make a substantial scoring impact as an underclassman.
Although Michigan came on late to win the recruitment, it’s easy to understand why an intelligent, measured player such as Simpson — who also can shoot — would appeal to John Beilein.
I project him as a four-year player on the basis of size and athleticism, and if that proves to be the case then the Wolverines will be extremely fortunate. However one assesses Simpson for the pros, there’s no question he can be immediately effective — and perhaps take the next step as he matures — in college. And we know based on experience not to make too many assumptions, for any level, based purely on size.
Simpson ranks No. 55 in the Class of 2016 and as our No. 12 point guard.