During the second quarter of last Saturday night’s 89–87 loss to the Lakers, Clippers broadcaster Ralph Lawler said, after an off-target jumper by Bobby Simmons, “It’s gotten to the point where, when he misses, you are absolutely shocked.” Lawler was as accurate as Simmons usually is: At week’s end the 24-year-old small forward was hitting 55.2% from the floor and 90.5% from the line--he’s 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 11–8 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’ coach before last season. “We were in the market for a backup,” says Dunleavy. “I called [former Washington coach] Doug Collins about Bobby, and he told me we would love him, that he’s a very good shooter and a guy who can guard three positions.”

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’t run a lot of plays for him--he was averaging 16.4 points on only 11.4 shots through Sunday--Simmons hasn’t forced the issue, instead relying on weakside putbacks and 18-foot looks created by double teams on Elton Brand. “I take a lot of pride in my shooting,” says Simmons. “The midrange jumper is a lost art, and it’s something I’ve worked really hard to improve.”

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. “We have a great group of young talent here,” he says. “I’d like to be a part of this team for a long time.” --Chris Mannix

COLOR PHOTOLISA BLUMENFELD/GETTY IMAGES (SIMMONS) RAPID RISE A starter for the first time, Simmons is a favorite for Most Improved Player.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)