Derek Simpson is developing into a key player for Rutgers
With Aundre Hyatt moving back into the starting lineup since the season ending injury to Mawot Mag, the bench for Rutgers has had more pressure to produce. Dean Reiber and Oskar Palmquist have stepped up at times, including the win at Wisconsin. However, it’s been Derek Simpson who seen his role increase the most.
His opportunity to make a greater impact started immediately. The freshman played down the stretch in the win over Michigan State at Madison Square Garden. With Mag going down in the first half, head coach Steve Pikiell leaned on Simpson to help close out the game. Simpson made an 18 foot jumper to cut the MSU lead to 1 point with seven minutes to play while converting both free throws with just over a minute to play to help seal the victory.
In the next game against Indiana, Simpson scored seven points in the last eight minutes of the game. His outburst helped cut the Hoosiers lead to one possession before Rutgers ultimately fell short in Bloomington. He made two shots early against Illinois before struggling to score in the second half much like the rest of his team. However, he bounced back with 10 points on 5 of 7 shooting in the loss to Nebraska.
Against Wisconsin on Saturday, Simpson made a smart decision to drive the baseline with just over a minute to play. While he missed the contested shot at the rim, Aundre Hyatt was there to deliver the winning basket. His ability to drive off the dribble and poise created that opportunity in a big spot in the game.
“He’s just getting better and better,” Pikiell said on a call this week. “Obviously with the minutes available now, especially Caleb is a 35 minute guy, so the other night he had to play more minutes and more down the stretch.”
One area in which Simpson has done well with that has helped earn him more minutes is limiting mistakes. He ranks in the top 500 nationally with a low turnover rate of 13.6% and averages only 2.4 fouls per 40 minutes. A big step for him has been learning to defend without fouling.
Another key development with Simpson is his improved decision making. Against Minnesota, he forced two three-point attempts outside the flow of the offense and only played 15 minutes in a 35 point victory. However, the following game was his strong closing performance at the Garden against MSU and he’s played within himself ever since.
He made just 9 of 40 shots for 22.5% from behind the arc in his first 22 games. The rookie has only taken 4 from deep in the five games since Minnesota. He’s made 1. However, Simpson is playing to his strengths by playing downhill and attacking the rim. He’s made 11 of 22 shots for 50% from two-point range in this recent five game stretch. In his first 22 games, Simpson was shooting just 39.6% from two-point range. His approach in focusing on beating defenders off the dribble has improved his effectiveness.
Simpson’s ability to create offense off the bounce gives Rutgers a weapon they desperately needed.
With all that being said, Simpson’s improvement on the defensive end has been impressive. He struggled quite a bit defensively in his first few games of the season. That’s not surprising for a freshman. However, he has gradually gotten better bit by bit. As good as his offense can be, Simpson wouldn’t be trusted down the stretch of games like he has if his defense wasn’t where it needs to be.
Pikiell explained the key to Simpson’s improvement has been simple. “He’s been practicing better. We’re are getting better results from him because he’s been practicing better.”
With Caleb McConnell’s health status a major concern this week in addition to the loss of Mag, Simpson will continue to get opportunities to make an impact for Rutgers. He’s showing late season development that you hope for in a freshman.
“He’s got really good talent and ability to create his own (shot), to go by players,” Pikiell said. “He keeps on improving and getting more opportunities but he’s making the most of his new opportunities.”
With Aundre Hyatt flourishing since replacing Mag as a starter, Simpson has also stepped up as the first player off the bench. He’s earned the trust of Pikiell and is being rewarded by playing big minutes in key spots. For Rutgers to finish the regular season in a positive way despite the injuries they’re going through, Derek Simpson needs to play a pivotal role. With his recent play, there should be confidence that the freshman is ready.
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February 23, 2023 at 2:14 am
What I like most about Derek is that he has moxie and he is not afraid of the moment. He’s also a very important player because with Mag out Simpson is really the only player on the floor, I’m not counting Jalen Miller, with a lot of speed, with and without the ball.
February 23, 2023 at 8:38 am
I am so happy to see Derek not just throwing up 3s the moment he gets into the game. Better 3 point shooting will come with experience and increased strength in the coming years.