With Damian Lillard shut down and the team woefully far from the play-in picture, it’s time for the Portland Trail Blazers to look ahead to next season and take stock of the roster.
Having started the year with the seventh-youngest team in the NBA, Portland’s prospects need to go under the microscope, and that starts with Anfernee Simons.
Simons is wrapping us his fifth and best year as an NBA player, having established himself as a starter in the backcourt for the Blazers. As the featured second option next to Lillard, Simons averaged career-highs in points, assists, and steals per game, alongside a career-high shooting percentage from the field.
Simons thrived as a second option for the Blazers – even if he isn’t a star quite yet – but if the team wants to begin contending for titles, it’ll need to see some key improvements in his game, lest he is confined to a bench role.
While none of these are easy fixes in his game, they are all essential pieces to Simons taking the leap from great to elite.
Area of improvement #1: Get to the line more often
As the de facto second option on offense for the Blazers, Simons had the ball in his hands a lot this season. He barely edged out Jerami Grant for usage on the team this year, which speaks to the confidence and trust that head coach Chauncey Billups and the rest of the coaching staff have in Simons.
For the most part, that trust was validated, as offense hasn’t been the problem for Portland this year. Although the injury bug has sapped some of the explosive potential of the offense, the Blazers rank 15th in net rating in the NBA. Their problems stem from the defensive end.
Per Cleaning the Glass, Simons ranked fifth on the team in efficiency differential, which speaks to his positive impact. If he wants to take it to the next level, however, Simons is going to need to take finishes like the one below and start adding found money to them:
With his agility, ability to finish with both hands, and quick instincts, Simons is already a skilled finisher at the rim. That hasn’t translated to free throw attempts, however, as he set a career-high with just less than three attempts per game.
Simply put, that’s not good enough to be a star in the NBA.
Look at the list at the names that lead the league in free-throw attempts and you see a pattern: Lillard ranks fifth amongst a who’s-who of current stars.
It’s a notable marker of going from a great scorer to one with game-bending potential when a player can consistently generate easy offense like this for themselves.
Simons is already a deadeye from the line, ranking 10th in the league in free-throw percentage. An uptick in his attempts would not only get him easier looks, but would represent his newfound ability to elevate an offense to a higher level all on his own.