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Young Blazers Duo Focused on Hard Work, Accountability

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The Trail Blazers secured their first victory in the 2019 NBA Summer League competition by harnessing Gary Trent Jr. and Anfernee Simons’ backcourt production.

2019 Las Vegas Summer League - Day 3 - Houston Rockets v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

The Trail Blazers recovered from a rocky 20-point loss to the Pistons by dispatching the Rockets in the second game of their NBA Summer League stint. A 31-point showing from second-year guard Gary Trent Jr. led the way for the Blazers. Unlike most teams in this year’s competition, Portland’s roster features two players in Trent and Anfernee Simons that are positioned to earn minutes on a squad hoping to return to the Western Conference Finals.

On Sunday, the Blazers got a look at what Anfernee Simons and Trent could produce as partners. Both players exchanged possessions that featured three-point conversions that eventually ended with Simons deferring to Trent’s hot hand. That series of events should have looked familiar to a fanbase that has watched Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum excel as a backcourt tandem.

It is far too early to make comparisons between Simons-Trent and Portland’s current starting backcourt, but it is clear that the pair of second-year guards are learning from their veterans.

After leading the Blazers to victory, Trent opened up about how he has adapted to a reduced role in the NBA after starring in college. “I’m not going to lie at all, it was tough.” Trent continued, “First time in my life not playing at all, for a while. [But] it was great. There are great people in front of me that I’m learning from, watching them day in and day out, on everything they do: how they work, how they stay after, how they eat. I watched every single thing they do day in and day out. It makes you work even harder, it makes you more hungry. So, I’m just going to continue to work.”

Assistant Coach Jim Moran, who is serving as the Blazers’ head coach in Summer League, acknowledged that the staff is holding Simons and Trent accountable for the team’s overall performance. “I think that 20-point loss [to the Pistons] was kind of a slap in the face for us, so I was happy with the way that these guys responded.”

Moran went on to explain that he pushed the pair of 2018 draftees to perform better against the Rockets. “We challenged him [Trent] today. We watched film with him and we just challenged him, we said ‘hey, you’ve got to be better. You’ve got to be better offensively and you’ve got to be better defensively.’ I thought he really took that message to heart and he came out here and he played well. It was the same message to Anfernee. It’s their team, they’re the Blazer veteran guys and this is their team.”

That message was received, as Simons and Trent combined for 37 points and 11 three-pointers on just 14 attempts from beyond the arc. Beyond the box score, Simons did a better job communicating on defense and Trent took the reins of the offense to preserve the Blazers lead.

Both players still have work to do to earn a spot in coach Terry Stotts’ rotation, but Trent’s approach is poised to garner results. After the victory, Trent spoke about his determination to improve. “I’m not a finished product,” Trent said. “I’m nowhere near where I want to be, so I’ve got to continue to work on my all-around game: my dribbling, my shooting, my mindset to the game, my playmaking. Everything.”

Sunday’s game was the performance many fans expected from Trent and Simons in Las Vegas. They will get another chance to showcase their growth as a tandem against the Jazz on Tuesday.