Opting to use the third pick instead of trading it for an established veteran seemed to contradict the tone of general manager Joe Cronin’s April exit interview, in which he emphasized the urgency of making win-now moves.
After the draft and again after a meeting between him, Lillard, and Lillard’s agent, Aaron Goodwin, Cronin affirmed that he still intends to win on Lillard’s timeline:
Cronin’s assurance that the Blazers’ priority is still to build a contender around Lillard portends a trade involving one of Portland’s young guards. Henderson and Shaedon Sharpe need minutes to develop, and Anfernee Simons has established himself as a starting-caliber guard, meaning there aren’t enough minutes to go around among the Blazers’ current stable of guards.
A Henderson trade seems exceedingly unlikely, barring a legitimate superstar becoming available. That leaves Sharpe and Simons as the two options to be traded.
Reporting has indicated that Simons is the more likely player to be moved.
The possibility that Simons gets traded in a move for a starting-caliber wing begs the questions: Is the 20-year-old Sharpe—assuming Henderson begins his rookie season in a sixth-man type role—ready to take Simons’ place as the Blazers’ starting shooting guard? How would a Lillard-Sharpe backcourt compare to a Lillard-Simons pairing?
Sharpe’s rookie season was filled with the ups and downs one would expect from an unpolished, yet tantalizing prospect who didn’t play any games in college. Defensive miscues and volatile shooting kept Sharpe’s minutes low for most of the year, despite frequent displays of jaw-dropping athleticism.
However, after the tanking-induced benching of Lillard, Sharpe shined in the season’s final 10 games, averaging 23.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game on 46/38/77 shooting splits.
Data from last season serves as a useful starting point for a comparison of the Lillard-Sharpe and Lillard-Simons duos.
In 1,252 minutes, lineups with Lillard and Simons produced a -0.5 net rating with an offensive rating of 115.6 and a defensive rating of 116.2, per NBA.com’s advanced stats. Lillard and Sharpe shared the court for 565 minutes, participating in lineups that generated a 123.5 offensive rating and a 117.4 defensive rating, good for a 6.1 net rating.
Although the Lillard-Sharpe duo posted a higher net rating, limited sample sizes and Simons’ heavier minutes against starters might account for some of the difference. Sharpe and Simons fit into similar archetypes as bouncy bucket-getters, but an analysis of their differences sheds light on who projects to mesh better with Lillard as a full-time starter.
Sharpe vs. Simons: Offensive comparison
With four years under his belt, Simons has had more time than Sharpe to develop a polished, well-rounded offensive game. Simons has always flashed superb shooting ability, but in the last two seasons, he has come into his own as a ball-handler, decision-maker, and pick-and-roll operator.
At this point in both players’ development, Simons has the clear edge in playmaking. His tight handle and quickness, paired with a quick shooting release and the ability to make live-dribble passes, keeps defenses off balance.
When the defense takes away the three and the rim, he utilizes a strong in-between game consisting of floaters, pull-ups, and baby hooks.
Sharpe’s loose handle limits his playmaking capabilities. Although he’s vertically explosive, Sharpe’s lack of lateral shiftiness hinders his ability to beat defenders off the bounce in one-on-one situations.
The Sharpe-Lillard duo may have posted a better net rating than the Simons-Lillard duo last year, but Simons’ playmaking allows him to carry a heavier load as the primary playmaker compared to Sharpe, better equipping him to lead non-Lillard minutes.
Although Simons has an advantage in quickness, Sharpe has a bigger, stronger body. Learning how he can leverage his physicality to control pace and manipulate angles should help Sharpe develop his on-ball game and close the current playmaking gap with Simons.
When it comes to shooting, there’s less of a disparity between the two. Sharpe posted better catch-and-shoot numbers from three last season: 45.5 percent on 154 attempts, compared to Simons’ 39.2 percent on 301 attempts.
Simons, however, secured the edge in pull-up 3-point shooting, converting on 35.5 percent of his 256 attempts, compared to Sharpe’s 25.0 percent on 128 attempts.
Although his pull-up numbers trailed Simons’ last season, Sharpe displayed an advanced ability to set up threes off the dribble with a variety of moves—side steps, step backs, and escape dribbles—that indicate his promise as a versatile jump shooter.
The ability to add value off the ball further bolsters Sharpe’s case. Both players have bounce, but Sharpe’s vertical explosiveness exists in a higher tier.
Aided by a longer wingspan, Sharpe has more horizontal and vertical range than Simons, which makes him more dangerous as a lob threat and cutter. Sharpe’s slashing and lob-catching ability pairs well with Lillard, whose gravity often attracts multiple defenders, creating 4-on-3 situations that Sharpe exploited often last season with cuts along the baseline.
Sharpe’s preposterous vertical also gives him the potential to be elite as a finisher. He’s already shooting at a higher clip near the basket than Simons—62.5 percent within 10 feet compared to Simons’ 59.1 percent—but a refined handle and improved layup package could further elevate his finishing.
Sharpe vs. Simons: Defensive comparison
Building a team around an undersized offensive centerpiece like Lillard heightens the need for impact defenders with length and athleticism. From a physical tools standpoint, Sharpe fits the bill better than Simons as a natural fit alongside Lillard defensively.
Sharpe’s 6-foot-5 stature and 7-foot wingspan equip him with solid size for a shooting guard. Simons has less size, standing at 6-foot-3, but relatively decent length with a 6-foot-9 wingspan.
A bigger frame affords Sharpe the chance to be more physical as a defender, but Simons’ quicker feet give him an edge against fast guards.
Simons’ experience also gives him the advantage in understanding how to defend within a scheme. At this point in their developments, Simons is less prone to blowing coverages and missing assignments, two reasons why Sharpe’s playing time remained limited throughout most of last season.
However, Sharpe’s leaping ability and size provide him with promising potential as a help defender. Sharpe was at his best defensively last season when he used his athleticism to disrupt shots at the rim, chase down layup attempts in transition, and clog passing lanes.
In his rookie season, Sharpe also displayed the ability to be an impact rebounder at the shooting guard position, skying for defensive rebounds above bigs or punctuating offensive possessions with putback slams.
As one-on-one defenders, Simons currently has the edge due to a more advanced understanding of angles and timing. Sharpe’s bigger frame and wider range afford him a higher upside than Simons as a one-on-one defender, but Sharpe’s slower lateral quickness may limit his ceiling.
Both players present a compelling argument for why they are worth Portland’s investment as Lillard’s partner in the backcourt. Sharpe’s physical profile makes him a cleaner fit with Lillard. However, Simons’ offensive game is more polished, and his timeline aligns more closely with Lillard’s.
But two factors should convince the Blazers’ front office that the answer is Sharpe.
First, the team is best off with the ball in Lillard’s hands, so complementary skills matter more than primary creation for players sharing the floor with him.
Simons has a more sophisticated offensive skill set than Sharpe at this point in their careers, but as long as the floor is well-spaced for Lillard, having other primary creators doesn’t matter so much.
The Sharpe-Lillard lineups produced higher offensive ratings than Simons-Lillard lineups offensively last year, lending credence to the idea that surrounding Lillard with more primary creators doesn’t necessarily translate to more efficient offense.
Instead, it’s essential to surround Lillard with players who possess an array of complementary skills—cutting, catch-and-shoot ability, rim pressure, and rebounding. Sharpe already edges out Simons in most of those departments, and he still has room for growth.
Second, Sharpe has a higher upside on both ends.
Simons’ slim frame limits his potential as a defender. In a playoff setting, it might be unavoidable that Simons is exploited as a defensive liability. Sharpe still has a lot of room for growth as a defender, but his physical tools give him the upside to make the defensive impact the Blazers would need from Lillard’s teammates to win at the highest level.
Ultimately, Sharpe’s tantalizing upside, potential synergy with Lillard, and rookie-scale contract afford Cronin the chance to place Simons on the trade market. Expect to see Simons’ name in trade discussions as the Blazers’ front office looks to add size next to Lillard and clear playing time for Henderson.