The Arizona Wildcats' 2015 recruiting class was ranked as the third-best class in the entire country, and Justin Simon, a four-star prospect from Temecula, California, was a notable part of it.
The 6-foot-5 point guard was ranked as the No. 34 recruit and eighth-best point guard in his class. Given that Arizona was losing its starting point guard in T.J. McConnell, and its only two other point guards were the undersized Parker Jackson-Cartwright and combo guard Kadeem Allen, there figured to be a chance for Simon to contribute right away. However, Simon could not beat out Allen nor Jackson-Cartwright for point guard minutes, and he averaged just 7.5 minutes in 24 games as a freshman.
Evidently, Simon wasn't ready to play the point guard position at a high level just yet, and with Ray Smith out for the season, and Elliott Pitts missing most of it, it led Sean Miller to try to incorporate Simon at the two-guard and small forward spots. It turned out to be a failed experiment though, as his lackluster offensive game -- especially his non-existent jump shot -- led to less-than-ideal results.
Simon posted a team-worst true-shooting percentage -- a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws -- of 50.0 percent. He took just three 3-pointers all season, making one of them, and shot 9-21 (42.9 percent) from the free throw line. Plus, he had more turnovers (14) than assists (8), as his court-vision, which was lauded in high school, did not translate to the college game.
Arizona had a 112.7 offensive rating -- the number of points scored per 100 possessions -- this season, but with Simon on the floor, it dipped all the way to 92.1. That's 15.5 (!) points less than Kadeem Allen, who had the team's second-worst offensive rating (107.6).
Simon could occasionally score in transition, off an offensive rebound, or by taking the ball to the rim, but, in general, opposing teams didn't have to pay much attention to him because he was mostly a non-threat on offense (especially on the perimeter), and it drastically hurt Arizona's offense.
It's unfortunate too because, as we know, Arizona's perimeter defense wasn't great this season, and Simon could've helped in that regard. At 6-foot-5 with adequate foot speed and length, he had the capability of effectively guarding multiple positions. And, when he did play, he did just that. Simon posted the third-best defensive rating on the team (96.1).
So why, if Simon could've helped the team's defense, did he not play more often? The issue is that with him being a non-threat on offense, it negated any sort of defensive impact he made. And then some. Simon had a net-rating of -4.0 this season, meaning that Arizona allowed four more points per 100 possessions than it scored when Simon was on the court. And it's worth mentioning that he was the only Arizona rotation player to have a negative net-rating this season. For reference, Parker Jackson-Cartwright had the second-worst net-rating on the team, but he was at +8.0, a mark far better than what Simon put up.
In other words, despite Simon's contributions on the defensive end of the floor, the team was much worse off when he was in the game because of his ineptitude on offense, and thus he was essentially unplayable. Hence, why he did not see the floor in seven of Arizona's last 11 games.
Perhaps things would have been different had Simon played point guard rather than off-the-ball, and that's an argument that one could make, but obviously Miller didn't feel he was ready for that responsibility. And that says a lot, seeing that Arizona's point guard play was one of its glaring weaknesses this season.
vs. Missouri: 10 points, 4-5 FG, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 assist.
vs. Northern Arizona: 9 points, 4-5 FG, 2 rebounds, 1 assist
vs. Washington: 9 points, 4-4 FG, 4 rebounds, 1 steal
vs. Washington State: 6 points, 3-5 FG, 2 rebounds, 1 block, 1 steal.
Shortly after Arizona's season-ending loss to Wichita State in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament, it was announced that Justin Simon will transfer from Arizona after just one season with the program, citing playing time as the reason for it.
With all things considered, it's probably the right move. Arizona returns Jackson-Cartwright and Allen -- two players Simon couldn't beat out as a freshman -- at the point guard position, and is set to add five-star point guard recruit Kobi Simmons to the mix as well. The Wildcats also figure to have an influx of talent on the wing, which likely would have left Simon with minimal playing time as a sophomore.
Simon just wasn't polished enough (and may have never been) to play major minutes at Arizona, and transferring will allow him to get playing time elsewhere and hopefully accelerate his development. While Simon was a liability for the Wildcats this year, I have no doubt that he'll eventually be a formidable player down the road. Not every player lights it up in their first season in college basketball. Sometimes it takes a few years before things click, and that's what I'm expecting out of Simon. The defensive tools are there, he just needs to become a more well-rounded offensive player. His jump shot has to improve so that teams have to account for him on the perimeter, and his floor game has to adjust to the half-court style of college basketball.
Now, some may argue that Simon should have stayed and taken a Gabe York-esque route to playing time (by staying for all four years), but, while that worked for York, there's no guarantee that Simon would've ever had a significant role at Arizona, especially given the way that Arizona has recruited lately.
Plus, Simon's decision to transfer is beneficial for Arizona. The Wildcats will now have an extra scholarship to offer to a player that can fill a need and possibly contribute right away, like a front court recruit or a graduate transfer.
All in all, the move is best for both parties, and we wish Justin well wherever he chooses to continue his collegiate career.