Why Blazers’ Anfernee Simons will make his first all-star game this season

Anfernee Simons, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Anfernee Simons, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) /

Portland Trail Blazers’ guard Anfernee Simons has improved nearly every season of his NBA career. He only played in 20 games as a 19-year-old rookie, but played 70 the next year, averaging 8.3 points in a little more than 20 minutes a night.

His playing time dropped a bit in 2020-21, but he got his first real taste of the starting lineup the next season, playing from the opening tip 30 times and increasing his scoring average from 7.8 ppg to 17.3. He averaged 14 shot attempts compared to 6.3 the year prior.

He then took a major leap last season, starting all 62 games in which he played. He averaged more than 20 points for the first time in his career and hit nearly 38 percent of his 9.1 3-point attempts.

Blazers’ guard Anfernee Simons is ready to make his first all-star appearance

With Damian Lillard’s future in Portland in question, Simons is prepared to take on the role of No. 1 offensive option in 2023-24.

Rookie point guard Scoot Henderson will certainly get his touches, but he’s not a “put your head down and just go score” type of player. Shaedon Sharpe isn’t ready to carry a team’s offense, even if he’s made significant improvements. Jerami Grant returns to Portland as another veteran scorer, but he’s not nearly the offensive talent Simons is.

Lillard was seventh in the NBA last season in usage rate. Simons came in at 73rd. If Dame heads elsewhere, the 24-year-old guard will take on more of the offensive load – his usage rate of 24.7 last year could jump closer to the 27-28 range, which would put him in the DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Kuzma, Zach LaVine, Jalen Green category.

Some of the 2023 All-Star Game reserves last year included Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards, DeRozan, Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday, the Knicks’ Julius Randle and the Pelicans’ Zion Williamson. Edwards should take a similar jump to Simons this season, but DeRozan will be a year older, Holiday was an all-star mostly because of his defense (which isn’t normally a reason for an all-star berth), Randle has always been an inconsistent player and Zion is still a bad landing away from a serious injury.

If Simons takes on more of the scoring load with the Blazers and his numbers (conservatively) jump to around 25 points and 5 assists per game and his 3-point percentage remains similar but his volume increases, he has to be in the conversation for his first all-star game appearance.

Randle, for example, averaged 25.1 points and 10.0 rebounds and was voted in. DeRozan averaged 24.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg and 5.1 apg. De’Aaron Fox made his first appearance as an injury replacement after averaging 25.0 points and 6.1 assists. Edwards scored 24.6 ppg and added 5.8 rpg and 4.4 apg and was also an injury replacement.

Those are all numbers that should be replicable for Simons with more opportunities and another offseason of improvement. At the very least, he should be in the conversation with players like Fox and Edwards as injury replacements.

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Assuming Lillard begins the season in Miami (or perhaps somewhere else), Simons is ready to make another leap – one that should land him his first taste of an NBA All-Star Game.