During the second quarter of last Saturday night‚Äôs 89‚Äì87 loss to the Lakers, Clippers broadcaster Ralph Lawler said, after an off-target jumper by Bobby Simmons, ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs gotten to the point where, when he misses, you are absolutely shocked.‚Äù Lawler was as accurate as Simmons usually is: At week‚Äôs end the 24-year-old small forward was hitting 55.2% from the floor and 90.5% from the line--he‚Äôs the only player in the top 10 in both categories--as well as 52.6% (10 of 19) from beyond the arc, helping the Clippers get off to an 11‚Äì8 start, their best in 12 years.
A Chicago native and 2001 second-round pick out of DePaul, Simmons spent his off-seasons scrimmaging against Michael Jordan, who, after taking over the Wizards, acquired him from the Sonics on draft day. While Simmons spent most of his first two years battling Jordan (among others) for playing time, his defense caught the eye of Mike Dunleavy, who took over as the Clippers‚Äô coach before last season. ‚ÄúWe were in the market for a backup,‚Äù says Dunleavy. ‚ÄúI called [former Washington coach] Doug Collins about Bobby, and he told me we would love him, that he‚Äôs a very good shooter and a guy who can guard three positions.‚Äù
Los Angeles signed the 6'7" Simmons to a two-year, $1.5 million contract, and he made his bid for starting job at the end of last season; over the final three games he averaged 14.0 points and 8.7 rebounds. While Dunleavy doesn‚Äôt run a lot of plays for him--he was averaging 16.4 points on only 11.4 shots through Sunday--Simmons hasn‚Äôt forced the issue, instead relying on weakside putbacks and 18-foot looks created by double teams on Elton Brand. ‚ÄúI take a lot of pride in my shooting,‚Äù says Simmons. ‚ÄúThe midrange jumper is a lost art, and it‚Äôs something I‚Äôve worked really hard to improve.‚Äù
The front-runner, along with Bobcats center Primoz Brezec, for the Most Improved Player award, Simmons hopes to resign with the Clippers after the season. ‚ÄúWe have a great group of young talent here,‚Äù he says. ‚ÄúI‚Äôd like to be a part of this team for a long time.‚Äù --Chris Mannix
LISA BLUMENFELD/GETTY IMAGES (SIMMONS)
A starter for the first time, Simmons is a favorite for Most Improved Player.