After establishing himself as one of the top point guard prospects in the country last summer on the grassroots basketball circuit, Xavier Simpson set out this summer to silence critics when it came to the biggest perceived flaw in his game – his shooting ability.
And so far, he’s done exactly that.
Through 17 regular season games in Nike's EYBL, he shot 39.2 percent from beyond the arc (20-51), and during the NBA Players Association Top 100 Camp in June he put on a scoring exhibition that included him knocking down shots from all over the court. Wednesday night he continued to shoot the ball well at the AAU Super Showcase in Louisville, though he didn’t attempt a single three. One of Xavier's top priorities in the 2016 recruiting class, Simpson finished with 11 points on an efficient shooting performance as his King James Shooting Stars toppled the West Virginia Wildcats with assistant coach Travis Steele watching.
While he played limited minutes in the early pool play game, he made a few key mid-range jumpers after creating his shot off the dribble during the second half to make sure his team remained in control.
“I felt like that was the main piece missing in my game,” Simpson said. “Now that I feel like I have the ability to shoot the ball from the three and off the pull-up, I feel like that will open up not only my game but also the other players around me.”
The most important aspect of Simpson’s improvement as a scorer has been the way he creates space and makes shots off of ball screens. In an era where teams at every level are relying heavily on the ball screen to initiate offense; having a point guard who has a natural feel for how to probe the defense, create space for a quick jumper and find passing lanes is invaluable.
“My shot’s not the greatest now, but teams can’t play off of me or go under the screen,” he said. “I feel like once I break my man down I don’t have to get all the way to the hole. I can take one or two dribbles inside the 3-point line and feel comfortable making that shot”
When Simpson burst onto the scene as a national prospect, it was his passing and ability to run an offense that stuck out. And he has no plans on changing that. However, being capable of creating opportunities and scoring from the point guard position only makes his job as a floor general easier.
“I feel like I can be a big-time scorer, but where I got my name from was being a distributor. The distributing, that will always be there because that’s natural for me… it’s just inside me. The jumper helps me to stretch the floor and open things up even more for my teammates.”
As for his recruitment, Simpson added that nothing had changed recently. The usual suspects – Xavier, Iowa State, Purdue, Illinois and Iowa – have all been following him around this month, and he tentatively has visits set up for Purdue and Iowa State in August. Don’t expect any movement on this front before he makes some visits.