Putting aside the fact that Rutgers’ sophomore guard looks eerily similar to his predecessor and that both players donned the number 0, it seems as if Derek Simpson is Geo Baker 2.0. Simpson’s journey, play style, and stat lines are reminiscent of the former star, and to steal a line from Brad Paisley’s Anything Like Me, “There’s worse folks to be like”.
Geo Baker went largely overlooked, finishing as the 420th-ranked recruit in his class and holding just two high major offers (Rutgers and Kansas State), but he never let that ranking define him. It fueled the fire in his game and became almost a quintessential tale among Rutgers faithful. It wasn’t all that different for Simpson though, an underrecruited guard from the Garden State, he too held just two high major offers (Rutgers and Arizona State) and much like Baker, he’s defied his ranking with his play.
Geo Baker played the most minutes of any Rutgers freshman in the Steve Pikiell era by a wide margin. He was thrust into the fire early on and logged 31.6 minutes a game playing shooting guard alongside Corey Sanders. Baker was counted on early in his career and his ability to step up as a freshman set the tone for his time at Rutgers.
Similarly, Steve Pikiell turned to Derek Simpson, a freshman, to provide a spark when the team needed it. He played around 20 minutes a game, the 4th most of any freshman during the aforementioned era, but over the final six games of the year, Simpson was averaging 28 minutes a contest and being counted on to run the offense. Basically, after losing Baker, the guy who was trusted to fill his shoes was Simpson.
Furthermore, watching Simpson play feels like watching a young Geo Baker lead those early Pikiell teams. While most players are settling for threes, both of these guys love to hit those midrange jumpers. When Derek dropped a defender on a nasty stepback earlier this season, it felt like deja vu and looked exactly like the move that Geo perfected during his time on the banks.
For years, the knock on Baker was offensive efficiency, and truth be told, he wasn’t the most efficient offensive player that Rutgers had. That didn’t make him any less important though because he was still the key to the Scarlet Knight’s offense. Geo could handle the rock, and even though later in his career Paul Mulcahy took the ball up quite a bit, it was in Geo’s hands when it mattered. Simpson might not be able to match Baker’s clutch factor, but even though he too isn’t the most efficient shooter or scorer, Derek runs the offense well and will be counted on to make those late-game decisions all the same.
People will fault Baker and Simpson for their efficiency, but when the offense has gone cold, and Rutgers needs a bucket, they’re the guys who come through.
Stats don’t do much to separate the two point guards either. The pairs’ career shooting percentages are strikingly similar, with Geo having the edge by 1.1%, but the underlying numbers tie these two together even more so. They are both high-usage players with similar rates across almost all major categories. Their total rebound percentages are identical, their steal percentages are 0.1% off, and both players hover around the same player efficiency rating.
The difference between Baker and Simpson is that Geo Baker was a program-changing player. What he did for Rutgers basketball on and off the court is unmatched by anyone this century. For that reason, I believe that no one else should be allowed to wear the number 0, or 22 and 24 for that matter, but its fitting that Simpson is the one who carries on Baker’s legacy. It’s still early in Derek Simpson’s career, and his chapter in the novel that is Rutgers’ basketball is far from finished, but it’s safe to say that if it’s anything like Geo Baker’s, the Scarlet Knights are in good hands.