Sensational fifth-year combo guard Anfernee Simons in collaboration with a healthy Damian Lilliard is a terrifying duo for the Portland Trail Blazers’ new era and the rest of the NBA. After inking a four-year, $100 million rookie extension deal during the offseason, the fascinating 23-year-old guard will undergo an unfamiliar adjustment playing with the former Olympian. The pair have only played 377 minutes together.
Suffering a season-ending injury on December 31, Lillard’s abrupt departure generated a void. Simons took the helm and raised his level of play with a 9.5 point per game scoring increase. In his first start in Lillard’s absence, the 6’4 guard dropped a career-high 43 points in a showdown victory over the Atlanta Hawks and Trae Young. In his next 27 games as a starter, the former Slam Dunk champion had 16 games where he scored 20 points or more.
Averaging a smooth 23 points per game with veterans in and out of the lineup, Simons illustrated a dramatic transformation as the team’s primary scorer. His dynamic play and crunch-time scoring ability captivated NBA fans far and wide. Once he developed mild patellar tendinopathy in his left knee, the Trail Blazers shut down the potential stud guard for the remainder of the season.
New Beginnings for the Portland Trail Blazers.
"“One of the shining stars from our situation last year was Ant … I felt like he took the step into showing he can be a starter in our game,” Billups said. “He understands he won’t be surprising anybody this year … You’re just seeing him kind of grow up, and it’s been fun to really see it.”"
In his third season in the NBA, former Portland Trail Blazers CJ McCollum has been a 20-point scorer, mostly playing alongside Lillard. One key to Simon’s reaching the same level as McCollum did is consistency. Be dependable when Dame is struggling, like McCollum always did. Offensively, he has proven he can score from all three levels and can catch and shoot or knock down shots off the dribble. Playing with a compelling swagger, Simons can attack relentlessly anywhere on the court.
As his assists per game expanded from 1.4 to 3.9, Simons has exhibited signs of becoming a better distributor and keeping his teammates involved. After finishing last season with a 17.3-point scoring average, his stats will significantly increase with more minutes, including his PER of 15.3, which was already slightly above the league average.
In the previous two seasons, Simons has shot above 40% from behind the arc, whereas McCollum is a 37% career shooter from three. That innate ability to score from beyond the arc gives the Portland Trail Blazers two deadly three-point shooters. In fact, Ant has even knocked down nine triples three different times, a feat few have accomplished multiple times. Steph Curry has 38 games of 9 or more in over 821 games, and Simons has already done it three times in just 211 contests.
Greatness is not far away for the young star.
While Simons is a terrific offensive player, a substantial improvement is required on the defensive side of the ball. He ranked dead last in the NBA in defensive box plus-minus and defensive win shares, and defensive matadors Trae Young, Eric Gordon, and Jalen Green are the three players ranked ahead of Simons in DPM, which shows you how dreadful he has played on defense.
Coach Chauncey Billups will need Simons to contribute with maximum effort on the defensive end, and with his gigantic 6’9 wingspan and quickness, he should be able to create chaos for opposing guards, unlike McCollum. If he capitalizes on his opportunity, Simons could be one of the top-rising guards like Anthony Edwards and Jordan Poole.
Actually, one of his goals is to become an All-Star this season, a tall task in a conference loaded with marvelous guards. However, Simons needs to demonstrate he can elevate his play to become the team’s second-best player like McCollum once did and turn into a future franchise pillar. Time to shine.
The Portland Trail Blazers kick off their season opener on October 19 against the upstart Sacramento Kings and have the playoffs in their sights.