The Portland Trail Blazers have announced that Anfernee Simons will join their ever-growing list of inactive players for Monday night’s matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves. With Ant on the sidelines, that leaves 18 shots — Simons’s average output since Damian Lillard went out — to be divvied up among the remaining available bodies. As Portland’s heir to the development track, Keon Johnson needs to take full advantage of this unique opportunity.
The Trail Blazers really have no interest in winning at the present moment, sitting just four games back of the fifth-best lottery odds according to Tankathon. While Head Coach Chauncey Billups certainly isn’t opposed to winning, evidenced by the Blazers’ four-game victory streak before the All-Star break, this last quarter of the season is more or less a trial period and training camp for Portland’s group of young and unproven players.
Johnson had his most impressive game as a pro in the Blazers’ last outing, putting up 15 points on 5-9 shooting including 3-5 from beyond the arc. Yet, he was outshined by Brandon Williams, who dropped in 21 points.
Portland Trail Blazers rookie Keon Johnson needs to take advantage of unique opportunity against the Minnesota Timberwolves
In fact, Williams has made short work proving that he belongs in the NBA. Since signing his two-way contract with Portland on February 21, he’s strung together four-straight double-digit scoring performances.
In just six games played, he’s proven to have exceptional burst off the dribble, a slick handle, and the coveted ability to create for himself with the rock.
Aside from his last game, Keon Johnson hasn’t shown much aside from some stellar athleticism and promising defensive play. He’ll have to continue to show that he can be a threat on offense to stick in the league.
It’s no secret that I’ve been harsh with the rookie — perhaps bred from my distaste for the transaction that brought him to Rip City — but I resent any implications that I’ve been unfair or inaccurate.
Make no mistake, I am actively rooting for the young man to prove me wrong. After all, it’s in the best interest of everybody involved, and even those not involved like myself.
Whether Johnson is a meaningful contributor for the team next season or is moved again as an asset, he’ll have to take major strides in what’s left of the season.
With Simons on the bench, the pecking order on offense is up for grabs Monday night. Josh Hart is the requisite best player available but his skills are better suited for a complementary role.
With no true first-option and zero expectations from the fans, coaches, or management, Johnson is left with a low-stakes opportunity to establish himself.
There’s no doubt that Billups and the Blazers brass would like to see Johnson assert himself and either claim a long-term role on the roster or boost his trade value. It’s up to him to turn the opportunity into results.
If he doesn’t, Brandon Williams will.