Two weeks into the NBA season, and we’re starting to learn more about the landscape of the league; and the Portland Trail Blazers’ place in it.
While Portland is dealing with front court injury issues and some defensive struggles on the perimeter, there is also a lot going right for the team. Damian Lillard and Rodney Hood have looked good, and Hassan Whiteside has shown his flashes. But there may be no better sign for the future than the continued development of Anfernee Simons.
Slotted to be Portland’s third guard after playing fewer than 150 minutes all of last season, Simons has so far been a bright spot this year; averaging nearly nine points per game on 54 percent shooting, stellar for a guard. A small sample-size disclaimer certainly applies, but Simons has shown continued effectiveness in his increased role.
Most critically, he’s hitting 42 percent from the 3-point line; key for Portland’s bench unit that has seen Anthony Tolliver and Mario Hezonja struggle from beyond the arc so far. The Blazers are surviving their depleted big man situation by shooting 40 percent from the 3-point line as a team. Simons has been the key guy from distance off the bench.
I always say that every team needs a sixth man that’s either a consistent double digit scorer or a microwave-style scorer that can go off and win you a game. If you have both (think Lou Williams), your team is in pretty good shape. Simons isn’t there yet by any means, but I think he has that potential.
There are still some issues of course, Simons needs to put some muscle on his 20-year old frame. He needs to improve his defensive footwork. He’s a solid, but not great passer at this point in his career. But all of the positives put him on or ahead of where the team needed him to be when they let Seth Curry (and even Evan Turner, who handled the ball with last year’s bench unit) go. The organization bet on Simons’ development and, so far, it’s paying off.
The NBA season is a grind. Players get hurt. Maybe they need a day off, whether or not they actually take one. Having a gifted scorer like Simons slotted behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum is a boon for a team that historically struggles to get offense on the rare occasions when both stars are off their game. Not something you hope for, but something that happens three or four times a year. Stotts’ willingness to use three guard lineups for stretches could see Simons paired with the two starters for stretches when nothing else is falling.
All that said, we’re still talking about a raw youngster. This could be a hot streak or his baseline; we don’t really know yet. But I think it’s reasonable to expect a 20 year old with 240 career minutes to continue to find his footing throughout the course of the regular season. In a year where anything can be expected from the Blazers - from a lost season due to injuries to a repeat Western Conference Finals trip - it looks like, despite all other variables, that Portland has a player in Simons.