The X (or Z) Dilemma

X has been a huge part of the success the last two years, 63 wins, 7 tourney wins, 28 Big Ten wins, 6 BTT wins, including a title, and the motor of Michigan’s best defenses in a long time. He spearheaded an offense that this year was top 25 or top 20 depending on the site.

But he also has serious deficiencies as a scorer, really at all three levels. His 9pts/game (or even 11 in conference) were well below that of other ball dominant Beilein players. And in losses and against good defenses, X’s deficiencies as a scorer impacted the team.

@Wiscy - 11 pts on 13 shot equivalents (1-3pt) 3 TOs
@Iowa - 10 pts on 10 shot equivalents (0-5 3pt) 3 TOs
Wiscy - 5 pts on 9 shot equivalents (0-1 3pt) 1 TO
@PSU - 8 pts on 10 shot equivalents (2-6 3pt) 6 TOs
MSU - 19 pts on 17 shot equivalents (2-7 3pt) 1 TO
@MSU - 6 pts on 13 shot equivalents (0-3 3pt) 2 TOs
vs MSU - 6 pts on 9 shot equivalents (0-3 3pt) 1 TO
vsTTU - 0 pts on 5 shot equivalents (0-0 3pt) 4 TOs

In 8 games (7 losses plus the home game against Wiscy), that’s 65 pts on 86 shot equivalents, or .75 pts/shot (8.1 pts/game).

Overall, in the NCAA tourney, he had 13 pts on 18 shot equivalents with 11 TOs.

In 37 games he made 38 FTs and 32 3s, so 1 FT a game and less than one 3 a game. He had 21 games where he didn’t make a 3.

Of course, he had many high assist games in there. And by no means were the offensive woes, such as they were, solely his fault. But for such a ball-dominant player, his weaknesses show up.

The question is what to do. The obvious options include:

-3pt shooting - he has improved each year, but he has to continue to get better. If he can shoot 35% on catch and shoot opportunities toeing the line, that would open up a lot for other players.
-Get to the line more - as nice a story as the hook shot was, it got scouted by the end and also never yields FTs. Try drawing contact when going inside.
-As a team, get better feeding the post. This is obviously not just him but he plays a role.
-Surround him with 3 pts shooters. Switching out Matthews for Livers and improvement by Teske would already help, or maybe going small at the 5 depending on the defensive scheme.

You can talk about schemes all day, but it’s very hard to scheme around a ball dominant player being a limited scorer at all three levels. It’s a credit to X, the coaches, and the other players to have had the seasons they did and the offenses they did despite that. X has been a huge part of 3 great seasons, particularly the last two, but improving his offense will be crucial to raising the ceiling for next year’s offense.


I think improving his shooting capabilities would be huge, but I’m skeptical how much that can happen in the offseason of his junior year. His free throw % did get significantly better last summer so maybe there is still hope.

I would like to see Simpson and the team as a whole get a lot better in transition. Why the team struggled so much on the break this season never made a ton of sense to me. For as good of a passer as he is in the half court, it felt like the vision was rarely there on the break. He had some beautiful plays (the bounce pass to Livers in the Florida game stands out) but there were multiple times almost every game where I felt like Z missed someone open or hesitated, or wings didn’t fill their lanes correctly. If this team is going to continue to be elite defensively, getting better in transition seems like one of the easiest ways to improve the offense and I think Z has the skill set to make that happen without making major offcourt individual improvements


I agree with all this, including that we rarely saw the early transition pass. One thing, for instance, that makes MSU’s run game so good, is that Winston tosses the ball up when there’s an advantage. X has a tendency - in transition and the halfcourt - to hold the ball a bit too much. He’s not quite a natural passer, but I wouldn’t put it passed him to improve. And having guys not always in the right spot or lane certainly didn’t help.


I put a lot of Michigan’s transition issues on the other 4 players on the court than X. Remember, Michigan was great in transition last year and X was playing PG.


It was amazing how much it helped when guys actually leaked out. I specifically remember Poole getting a few game stretch where he actively tried to get out on the break. I think this teams tendency just wasnt to sprint the court. I would bet that is a point of emphasis this off season

It was a point of emphasis during this season. JB was really frustrated with the way the guys were running the floor.

1 Like

The difference in transition numbers are mostly from Wagner and Robinson 3s, so their absence certainly hurt. But (a) not having a player like Mo is just going to hurt, and (b) while Poole and Iggy may not have run to spots or mastered those 3s like their predecessors, I also saw them not get the ball in the right spots at times. I think there’s room for improvement from multiple guys, including X.

1 Like

Beilein also admitted that it was something he took for granted in the offseason and wished he spent more time on in the preseason.

1 Like

As X went, so went Michigan. You sum it up well–in terms of %s, X was .324 from the field in losses (.469 in wins), and .185 from 3 in losses (.351 in wins). He also had 2.9 turnovers per game in losses, and 1.5 in wins. Everybody’s performancemance goes down in losses, but nobody’s drop was quite as precipitous as was X’s.

I suspect, based on Beilein’s comments post TT, that we’re going to increase our focus on iso plays, which is going to take X off the ball a bit more next season. To make that work, Iggy or JP (or both, if they’re both here, or someone else if neither is here) is going to have to earn Beilein’s trust as a creator for others, as well as themselves. MAAR. Zak Irvin, and THJ all were able to make that leap–it is essential that someone else do so. And if/when they do, that’s going to put X in the corner more than he was this year–to me, that’s going to be the 3 look he’s going to have to knock down at a decent rate.

I think we’ll still run a lot of offense through X–we did win 30 games after all, and it’s easy to pull out bad games for anyone (check out Cassius Winston’s numbers against Illinois). However, X. whom I love as a player, has certain limitations on offense, and there should/has to be a secondary creator against teams which cause him issues.


Agree we seem to operate better in the semi fast break rather than our set offense against their set defense. It does drive me nuts to take a bad shot early, but it drives me even more crazy when we take a worse one late.


Basically every offense everywhere is better in transition or semi transition than in half court.

1 Like

I also believe Z became a more dominant ball handler this year due to not having a solid SG. So much of the action went through Simpson. MAAR took some pressure off of him last year. This year, I think all the pressure fell onto Simpson. So why not having strong offensive players around him highlighted some of Simpson’s weaknesses, I also believe they were further amplified due to a lack of a solid SG


Good observation. So if some of the pressure is back off of him next year this year’s travails will not have been in vain.

It all depends if we can get a better 2 guard or better surrounding shooters. Fingers crossed

1 Like

Or retain and feature JP more prominently in the offense. I’m still holding out hope–maybe fruitless–that he comes back. Fairly big loss, to my mind, if he does not.

1 Like

We will see if there is a change of heart by both Poole and the team. Maybe cooler heads will prevail

One challenge to taking X off ball is that it order for it to work, he must make himself worthy of defensive attention when he doesn’t have the ball.


I disagree that X shooting 35% from 3 on the exact same shots will make any difference - that’s only 4 more made shots over the course of the entire season. The bigger issue is that X only shoots when he is wide open and never off of the dribble, so defenders can switch when he is running the pick and roll or cheat off him with a very later close out when others have the ball. Shooting 35% from 3 AND having a quicker release AND occasionally being able to make and take off the dribble 3’s? Now that will make a big difference, but hard to see him accomplishing all of that in a year


Well if you think about it, him shooting 40% on the same number of shots is only like 9 or 10 more too. But it’s not just the shots themselves, it’s the threat that he would now present to defenses so that they wouldn’t sag off him all the time.

(Though if he does get to 35% he’ll probably attempt more too - he passed up plenty of open looks this past year.)


I know it’s not really our style but I wish we’d just fast break more off misses. Z is pretty damn good in the open floor and it could create more favorable looks for him and teammates. Maybe could negate his lack of shooting more,