Portland Trail Blazers: Scratching the Surface of Anfernee Simons Potential

Jan 29, 2020; Portland, OR, USA; (1) warms up before a game against the Houston Rockets the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 29, 2020; Portland, OR, USA; (1) warms up before a game against the Houston Rockets the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports /

Anfernee Simons has emerged as a bright spot for the Portland Trail Blazers this season. Can he be the long term solution as the second-string point guard?

Portland Trail Blazers guard, Anfernee Simons, is one of the most mysterious bundles of potential in the NBA today. The 24th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Blazers organization, hasn’t been shy about the kind of potential they see in their young guard, who burst onto the scene in the lone start of his rookie season, dropping 37 points and 9 assists on the Sacramento Kings on the last day of the 2018-19 regular season.

That summer, Blazers’ GM, Neil Olshey, had this to say about Simons, via The Oregonian:

"“He’s as talented as anybody we’ve ever drafted since I’ve been here, in terms of just natural gifts. He’s not the player [Lillard] and [McCollum] was, but in terms of just natural, God-given, basketball ability, Anfernee is as gifted as anybody I’ve ever drafted.”"

A few days after Olshey’s comments, Yahoo Sports’ Keith Smith, reported that the team was even declining to even consider including Simons in trade talks:

Blazers’ fans were excited to see Simons featured in a more prominent role last season. There were times when he certainly showed flashes of the ability that had the Blazers’ organization gushing. The day after Christmas, he nabbed 10 rebounds to go along with 15 points in a game against the Utah Jazz. A few weeks later, he scored 22 points on 6/7 shooting from three-point range in a 7-point loss to the Grizzlies.

Unfortunately, these bright spots were few and far between for Simons’, especially as the season wore on and he began to appear on more opponents’ scouting reports. He finished his sophomore season with meager averages of just 8.3 points and 1.4 assists, while shooting just 40% from the field and 33% from three in about 20 minutes a night.

His inconsistent three-point stroke and lack of playmaking made it hard for him to impact games positively. This led to Simons’ slipping out of the rotation in the Orlando bubble when the Blazers faced must-win games to keep the franchise from missing the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

Until recently, Simons’ didn’t look like he would play a big role in the Blazers’ 2020-2021 campaign. When Rodney Hood returned from injury, it looked like head coach Terry Stotts was content letting Hood and last year’s second-round pick, Gary Trent Jr., soak up the backup guard minutes, as Simons’ played just 100 total minutes during the team’s first 13 games. However, with CJ McCollum sidelined, the Blazers’ were running thin on ball-handling, which pushed Simons’ into the spotlight.

One aspect of his game Simons’ has been consistent in over the course of his career is taking care of the ball. If you look at the table below, you can see that his turnover percentage has routinely been one of the lowest in the league amongst guards, which is especially encouraging because of how young he is (he turned 21 last June).

His ball-handling ability should be put to the test this season as he’s going to have to be the primary ball-handler more than ever due to Damian Lillard being the only true point guard on the Blazers’ roster. I’m really curious to see how he fares in his minutes without Lillard (and CJ) to relieve some of the ball-handling duties.

Perhaps the most important improvement Simons appears to have made this year has been his three-point shooting ability. In the four games since the CJ injury, he’s 16/30 from beyond the arc, bumping his three-point percentage up to 41.9% on the year.

His confidence is apparent, as over 70% of his field-goal attempts have come from deep (via cleaningtheglass.com) – Simon’s looks like Dame at times with his ability to create the foot or two of space necessary to get his shot off. He’s picked up a few tricks over the past three seasons under Lillard’s tutelage. Now it’s still early, and we’ll have to be patient and see if Simons can sustain this current stretch of hot shooting, but there’s little doubt that the early returns have been encouraging.

An area where I’m sure the Blazers’ would like to see some improvement from Simons is his defense. According to FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR Player Ratings tool, Simons’ rates as the second-worst defender in the NBA so far this season (among all players who have played min. 175 minutes this season). That is not good, to say the least, and for Simons’ to be successful now, and later on in his career, he must prove he’s capable of locking in on the less glamorous end of the floor.

Blazers fans should be really excited to see how Simons contributes this season and I have to say, I’m confident that we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the things that he can do on the court. Simons and the Blazers are back in action Saturday night when they take on the Chicago Bulls; I can’t wait to see what he has in store. Keep shooting, Anfernee!

Next. Making the case for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in All-Star voting. dark