No. 2 Michigan basketball‘s lead against then-No. 21 Indiana had been cut to seven with over 10 minutes remaining in the second half when Zavier Simpson worked his way from the left wing into the paint.
Simpson drove to his right, gaining a step on Hoosier guard Al Durham. Then he lifted his right arm, the ball in his right hand, and dropped a high-arcing hook shot cleanly through the basket.
“And there’s the sweeping hook again,” exclaimed CBS analyst Clark Kellogg.
Simpson is well-known for his defense. But this season, he’s also gained notoriety for the latest addition to his offensive arsenal — the hook shot, once popularized by Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The skyhook may seem anachronistic considering today’s game emphasizes 3-pointers.
For Simpson, though, the hook shot has been quite efficient. According to Bart Torvik, who runs an analytics, rankings and statistics website, Simpson has made 7 of 10 hook shots this season.
The two leaders are Purdue’s Matt Haarms and Maryland’s Bruno Fernando, who have both made 9 of 10. Other big men across the country rank high. And then there’s Simpson, a 6-foot-0 point guard who is shooting the same percentage on hook shots as Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, a 6-10, All-American center.
Simpson doesn’t keep track of his own numbers. He was told of the hook shot stats on Wednesday afternoon, and didn’t offer much commentary until he was told who he was tied with.
“Ethan Happ?” Simpson said. “He’s got some nice, clever moves around the rim. Hard to beat him around that area.”
For Simpson, there is no deep thought process behind the shot. He’s “just making it up as I go along.”
When he does shoot it, he tries to put the ball high enough where the defender can’t get a piece. He doesn’t aim at any particular spot; it’s all about feel and touch, and the arc.
“Long as it’s high enough, it’ll drop in,” Simpson said. “If I miss it, it’s probably because it was short.”
There are differing accounts of how Simpson’s hook came about.
According to Michigan coach John Beilein, the shot was a natural progression out of a drill called “Double Mikans” – named after the pioneer of the skyhook, George Mikan – where the player has to hit 18 hook shots in 20 seconds with a ball in each hand.
Eventually, Beilein said, the staff moved Simpson’s drill out farther to give him another tool to use against defenders who can jump straight up and create a vertical wall without fouling – the “jump wall” rule, as Beilein refers to it.
Simpson, meanwhile, says he found the shot on accident in an open gym during his freshman year. He kept it in his back pocket over the next couple of seasons, and also worked on it a lot this past summer – to the detriment of Michigan’s big men.
“Even last year a couple times you’d see it,” said center Jon Teske. “But I know he worked really hard on it to get that down. I mean, it’s very hard to block. When we play in open gyms, I have trouble getting to it, so does Austin (Davis). It’s so far to the side that not a lot of people can really get to it at all.
“You think you’re in the right spot and you think you’re going to beat him to that spot and you’re walling him off, you’re not fouling him at all, and all of a sudden he kind of throws that on you. You’re not really expecting it, you’re kind of like, ‘What just happened?’ Or, ‘How did that go in?’ “
Ten attempts is a small sample size. But it’s a growing one – Simpson made three hooks against Indiana; one over center Juwan Morgan, another over point guard Devonte Green and then the last, and perhaps most important, over Durham.
The hook shot has become a part of Simpson’s game, and could even be considered vital to the team’s offensive success. When Simpson consistently beats his man in ball-screen situations, as he did on his second and third successful hook shots against Indiana, the Wolverines become more difficult to stop.
Because of Simpson’s success, the skyhook is catching on with his teammates. Eli Brooks, Jordan Poole and David DeJulius have all started to work on the shot and use it in practice or open gyms.
It all comes from Simpson. And while the shot may be unique, that in itself, he says, isn’t unusual.
“Everybody who plays basketball has something special, unique that they does,” Simpson said. “Jordan (Poole) has the step-back, the jab and the step-back, that’s been a high-percentage shot for him. Charles has good post-up game. Jon Teske has good hooks. So everybody has something that may not be as normal but kind of unique and special to them.”
Contact Orion Sang: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang.