John Beilein calls his decision to bring in Ohio University transfer Jaaron Simmons a “no-brainer.” At the point guard position, Michigan already had Xavier Simpson, who averaged just 8.7 minutes per game as a freshman last year, and incoming rookie Eli Brooks. Beilein could have rolled the dice with the young duo. “I didn’t want to take the chance,” he said in a radio interview last week.
Enter Simmons, who certainly brings experience, having started every game at point guard the last two years for Ohio. Less clear is whether he can make the jump from the Mid-American Conference (MAC) to the Big Ten.
The 6’1” Simmons was an All-MAC player last season. He averaged 17.2 points and his 6.5 assists per game were better than all but five players in the country. In his two seasons at Ohio (he began his career at Houston and sat out a year after transferring), he only played two games against major conference schools.
In a victory over Georgia Tech last year, Simmons scored 17 points (4/12 from two, 2/3 from three), handed out nine assists, and turned it over six times. At times he struggled to get his shot off around the rim, but keep in mind the Georgia Tech ended the season ranked sixth in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency and fourth in block percentage.
The tape also shows Simmons’ precise passes out of the pick and roll and his extreme confidence as a ball handler. Michigan is going to rely on those traits in addition to shot making. Simmons hit 35 percent from three-point range last season on 105 attempts and 42 percent the year before on 77 attempts.
Bart Torvik, who maintains a ranking system called T-Rank, analyzed all graduate transfers since 2007 and found that players moving up in competition—as determined by his site’s conference ratings—generally play fewer minutes and use fewer possessions while maintaining similar efficiency.
And now the same for grad transfers. Unsurprisingly, up transfers play less and use fewer possessions, but not much change in efficiency. pic.twitter.com/C9P4HiQk8x
— Bart T🏀rvik (@totally_t_bomb) June 16, 2017
The chart below, compiled through list assembled by Torvik, shows the six grad transfer point guards that have come to the Big Ten from a non-major conference since 2007.
Notes: minutes percentage, offensive rating, and possession percentage via KenPom.com; “former” represent final year at previous school (exceptions are Carter and Maniscalco; because of injuries, their “former” stats are from their second to last year at their former school; “new” stats are from first year at Big Ten school
The typical reduction in minutes and usage will almost certainly apply to Simmons, , who ranked 21st nationally in percentage of minutes played and used nearly 28% of Ohio’s possessions.
“We have so much competition (at the point guard spot) that don’t be surprised if we play two point guards at the same time,” Beilein told MGoBlue.com in a story that ran last week.
We heard some of that talk last year and it didn’t pan out, mostly because of Simpson’s learning curve and Derrick Walton, Jr.’s incredible play. The point guard spot won’t be a one-man show, but don’t expect to see equal minutes either. Simmons is the only player on the roster who has proven he can run a team at the college level. He is going to play a lot and Michigan will need him to play well.
Torvik’s data shows that players have come to the Big Ten and been expected to produce immediately. They’ve also struggled to maintain a similar level of productivity to their previous stops.
Simmons will have to do so while playing more than the typical grad transfer. Beilein has to be concerned about Simmons’ 1.6:1 assist-to-turnover ratio last year (Walton, for comparison, was at 2.8:1). While his size could be a concern, he’s no smaller than Michigan’s two previous point guards. Like Trey Burke, Simmons arrived in Ann Arbor at 175 pounds and has gained 10 for the start of the season.
Keep in mind, too, that a step-up in competition doesn’t just mean more talented opponents but also more qualified teammates. Simmons will benefit from playing alongside Moritz Wagner and Charles Matthews, and how Beilein deploys those two will go a long way in determining Simmons’ impact.
Beilein entered the grad transfer market cautiously and has said he would not have taken Simmons if he didn’t feel he was a good fit in the locker room. Beilein has taken only three previous transfers during his Michigan tenure: Matthews, who will don the maize and blue for the first time this season, senior Duncan Robinson, and Laval Lucas-Perry in 2009, none of whom had played more than one season elsewhere.
Beilein’s lower-level coaching roots prevent him from being totally comfortable with poaching a player developed elsewhere. But he won’t apologize for taking Simmons and unleashing him on the rest of the Big Ten.