Say “Point Guard” and, “Portland Trail Blazers” in the same sentence and a single name springs to mind: Damian Lillard. The multi-time All-Star, All-NBA, all-everything player is synonymous with Portland’s success and image. But Lillard cannot play all 48 minutes, 82 games a year.
Apart from a brief blip when Seth Curry joined the roster in 2018-19, Blazers fans have yearned for a true reserve point guard for ages. CJ McCollum took over ball-handling duties with the second unit for many of those years, but his injuries last season laid bare the thin nature of that approach. And even with his prodigious talent, McCollum is more naturally a scorer than a set-up man. Portland’s offense has been more about taking turns than melding into a cohesive whole.
New Head Coach Chauncey Billups wants to change up the attack. He prefers more interior play: penetration and dishing from the guards, setting up the big men to score or become facilitators themselves. This requires a different approach to the point guard position.
Lillard should be able to handle the shift with aplomb. If not, he can always shoot-veto his way out of sets. The picture at reserve point is less clear.
Anfernee Simons has been crowned heir apparent to the position as the 2021-22 season begins. The Blazers did not get a point guard of note in free agency. They held onto their Mid-Level Exception rather than spending it and traded for forward Larry Nance, Jr. instead of more backcourt help. Touches and minutes are wide open for Simons to grasp.
The fourth-year pro brings a fair amount of talent to the campaign. His 42.6% percentage from the arc last season was an eye-opener. That range, combined with a quick-trigger release, makes him an instant threat and a nightmare for defenses to contain. If given free rein and no other responsibilities, Simons could probably score 20 per game without thinking.
But does that a point guard make? For many teams in today’s NBA, the answer would be yes. How about the Blazers, though?
If Portland’s new offense makes use of the interior, Simons’ relatively-pedestrian 40.3% two-point percentage last year comes into question. 3.9 assists per 100 possessions and an 11.4% assist percentage (Simons generated 11.4% of his team’s assists when he was on the floor) don’t provide a great track record.
So far in preseason, Simons has shown greater commitment to making plays. As long as he hasn’t had to get too deep on the floor and the passing lanes have been open, he’s succeeded. Teammates have gotten in his way occasionally, as he has in theirs. The system isn’t inhabited enough yet to give a good sample, but he still looks far more comfortable as a shooter than a distributor.
This brings up the giant question: in this critical season, is Simons sufficient as a back-up point guard? Do you think he’s a great option, the best option the Blazers have right now, or something else? Do you prefer the look Dennis Smith Jr. gave in these first two preseason games, not as dangerous but certainly more distribution-oriented? Do you think it’s critical for the Blazers to trade for or sign a more accomplished point guard?
Discuss the matter in the comment section below as we await Preseason Game 3 tomorrow!