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Anfernee Simons’ Unique Gifts Can Be Blessing and Curse

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Talent has advantages, but sometimes makes fitting in harder.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Toronto Raptors Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Anfernee Simons has become a scintillating star in an otherwise-forgettable season for the Portland Trail Blazers. The second-year guard has removed himself from rampant trade speculation surrounding the team with brilliant handles and lightning-quick moves to the bucket, plus confidence on the court that belies his age.

Simons’ ascent hasn’t gone unnoticed. Dime Magazine ran a full-length feature on the potential star-in-waiting this week, highlighting his physical gifts and the struggle to integrate them into a team offense and the NBA in general. Author Katie Heindl penned a balanced, interesting look at life for a talented player who hasn’t been fully unleashed yet.

Simons’ transcendent speed takes central place in the article. Heindl explains:

There is a kind of heartbreaking trust Simons has on court. He’s out in the corners, at the wings, always the first one there because of his speed, waiting. Wide open most of the time because Toronto was concentrating its defense in the paint, efforting to smother [Damian] Lillard and Carmelo Anthony. Simons doesn’t call for the ball, doesn’t wave. He waits, gently vibrating, spring-loaded and ready to make the run, any run. It’s this patience that serves the second year player—dashing in from the corner for rebounds or swooping blocks, taking slick pull-up jumpers in the mid-range when Lillard was being forced farther and farther out.

Heindl points out that unique characteristics can also be a drawback when learning the game. When your style doesn’t have a precedent on the roster, it’s harder to understand or accommodate. This leads young players to press too hard for their own good, or the team’s. Portland’s recent victory over the Toronto Raptors provided examples:

But being able to accelerate so quickly has its drawbacks. Simons missed an open layup coming in too hot, rocking the ball hard against the glass. Another time he flew from the top of the key too late, coming away with a goaltend instead of the stuffing block he was after. The Raptors’ Pascal Siakam experienced the same issues with getting a handle on his explosive game and if Simons can add a gear or two between zero to a hundred, his steadfast approach to those looking to contain him on court would become all the more chilling.

This is a great piece for all Simons fans, plus those anticipating how the team might change if he ascends further in its hierarchy.