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What Aamir Simms' return means for Clemson men's basketball team

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Clemson forward Aamir Simms (copy)

Forward Aamir Simms (center) opted to return to Clemson in 2020-21 for his final season of eligibility. File/AP

CLEMSON — Aamir Simms is coming back.

The forward opted to pull his name from the NBA draft portal and return to Clemson for his final season of eligibility in a decision that elicited excitement from fans. 

In a 2019-20 campaign characterized by peaks and valleys — Clemson finished 16-15 but secured three wins over top-six teams —  Simms was a steadying presence: He led the team in points per game (13), rebounds (7.2), assists (2.6) and blocks (.8).

In an effort to better understand Simms' on-court production — and what his return will mean for Clemson next season — The Post and Courier referenced basketball analytics database KenPom.com

The findings reveal a portrait of a player maybe more valuable to the program then previously understood. 

Simms, for example, led Clemson in possession usage (24.1 percent) in 2019-20. For comparison's sake, the national leader in possession usage, Marquette point guard Markus Howard, registered 37.4 percent. But the 5-foot-11 Howard is a more traditional player for an offense to be built around.

Simms, at 6-9 and 240 pounds, played more of a point-forward role for Clemson, and the Tigers' offense often revolved around him in the absence of a more experienced high usage point guard.

Simms also led the Tigers in effective field goal percentage (53.2 percent) among players who averaged more than 14 minutes per game; effective field goal percentage adjusts for the fact that 3-pointers account for three points while field goals count for two points; traditional field goal percentage does not.

Behind Simms in that category was guard/forward Tevin Mack at 52.1 percent. Mack, who has expended all of his college eligibility, was also second in possession usage (22.4 percent). His departure creates a hole in a Tigers offense that already battled inconsistency last season.

That could mean even more responsibility for Simms, who also led Clemson in offensive rating (107.2 percent), which measures a player's efficiency by dividing points produced by possessions used.

Mack's departure could also mean more important roles for guards junior John Newman III and sophomore Al-Amir Dawes.

Coach Brad Brownell's most frequently used lineup over Clemson's last five games featured Dawes at point guard, Clyde Trapp at shooting guard, Newman at small forward, Mack at power forward and Simms at center.

With 7-footer Trey Jemison transferring to Alabama-Birmingham, incoming 6-10 freshman P.J. Hall might be the most logical choice to slide into Mack's spot in the lineup.

Hall, the No. 1 ranked incoming player from the state of South Carolina, shot 55.8 percent (24 for 43) from long range with Upward Stars (SC) on the 2019 adidas Gauntlet. Hall is also a strong post player, and his versatility could help Simms be an even more prolific offensive performer. Simms and Hall can space the floor for one another and team up in the paint to bully opposing defenders.

It'll be interesting to see how Brownell deploys Simms as a senior. The addition of Hall — and the continued development of Newman and Dawes, who both showed flashes of brilliance down the stretch — means Simms should have options to play with as a ball-handler.

But Simms might want to use the campaign primarily to show scouts what he can do on the defensive end.

Last week, during an appearance on the ACC Network's Packer and Durham, he said NBA teams were impressed with his offensive ability but wanted to see more from him on the other side of the ball.

"They know how versatile I am on offense, playing on the perimeter, the post, the mid-range," he said. "They just kind of want to see me do a little bit more on defense. When I get switched onto a guard, stay in front of him a little bit longer. You know, protect the rim a little bit more and guard the post a little bit better."

That feedback will likely influence how Simms expends energy in 2020-21. This isn't to say he can't excel on offense and defense in the same season. But players who return to college after testing the draft waters often do so with the intent of working on the parts of their game professional teams indicate needs fine-tuning. 

For Simms, that means defense. But with most of the Tigers' core returning — and the addition of a hyped big man — Simms could be in line for a special all-around campaign. 

Follow Joshua Needelman on Twitter at @joshneedelman.

Joshua Needelman covers Clemson for The Post and Courier. He's a Long Island, N.Y., native and a University of Maryland alum. He's won national and state awards in sports and feature writing, and for reasons unclear he still roots for the New York Knicks.

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