Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard Anfernee Simons is in the midst of a much talked about breakout season.
Through 17 games, the fourth-year reserve is averaging 11.4 points on 44.7% shooting from the field, 2.1 assists and 2.4 rebounds in 22.2 minutes per game — all of which are career highs. Simons is also shooting 36.4% from deep on a career high 5.2 attempts per game, while still attacking the basket more. On shots within five feet, Simons has increased his attempts from 0.7 per game last season to 1.8 per game this season, while upping his shooting percentage on those shots from 45.7% to 55.5%.
The stats are hard evidence of his leap in production.
Last Friday, Simons participated in the DICK’S Sporting Goods’ fourth Sports Matter #GiftOfSportTour, handing out sports equipment to youth athletes in Portland. The kids were pre-selected from youth sports organizations by the DICK’S Foundation and each gifted pre-packed bags with equipment to ensure they can play their favorite sports. The giveaway was one part of an eight-city tour across six states that will provide 10,000 gifts of sports equipment to children from under-resourced communities.
Shortly after the giveaway, Blazer’s Edge caught up with the 22-year-old Simons on the phone to discuss participating in the event, his impressive season thus far and the arc of his career.
BE: You just participated in the DICK’S Sporting Goods #GiftOfSportTour giveaway, how did it feel?
Simons: It felt good. It was a great experience. It was just fun to talk to them a little bit about what they were gonna do with the stuff that they got. You know, learn a little bit about them: What their names was [sic], what their favorite sport was and also they asked me a couple questions as well. It was fun to see the smile on they [sic] face and just get to know them a little bit and enjoy their gifts.
BE: I’m sure kids are now starstruck to see you, what has that been like for you?
Simons: I don’t know. It’s a weird feeling because I was once a little kid not too long ago. So it’s a pretty cool experience to see them in shock to see me, you know what I mean. It’s just pretty cool to be in this position, to be able to give back and make kids smile because I was one of those kids as well.
BE: When you were a kid, which athlete would you have been most starstruck to see at an event like this?
Simons: As a kid, my favorite player was Tracy McGrady so probably him. I’d be starstruck to see, probably at the time, Kobe, even Michael Jordan and Penny Hardaway. Those are the people my parents always emphasized how great they were, so I probably would’ve been starstruck to see one of those people.
BE: What type of impact do you see this giveaway making for young athletes?
Simons: I think it’s going to make a big impact. It’s going to obviously require the proper equipment they need to play the sports that they love and just have those proper resources that they need to get better at their sport. Now it’s just a matter of hard work and dedication.
BE: Your production has really increased on the court this season. What are you doing differently?
Simons: Just going out there and playing my game. Me and coach [Chauncey Billups] have had a lot of conversations about stuff, so they trust me to be myself out there and play my game, so it’s been good for me this year.
BE: You’ve been getting into the paint more this season, was there a shift in your mentality about attacking the rim more?
Simons: Yeah it was an emphasis of Coach Billups saying he needs me to get downhill, so that’s all I’ve been working on since the offseason and working on during training camp and practice. You know, just working on getting downhill, so I think I’ve always had the mindset of doing both.
BE: Do you see yourself more as a point guard or a shooting guard?
Simons: I think I can play both personally. I think it’s just somebody that can play the point when needed, play the two when needed, so I think I’m versatile when it comes to that.
BE: Since entering the league three years ago, what’s been the biggest difference for you as an NBA player on and off the court?
Simons: Becoming more mature off the court just from proper adult experiences. Coming to the league so young, you have to learn a lot of adult things a lot faster, especially coming to the league at 19 and having to learn the business side around things, so that’s been good. Obviously on the court, it’s just growing into the player that I want to be, so just learning through each and every year, learning to get better at things I might need to change about my mentality — so I think that maturity is the main thing.
BE: You went through an unconventional route entering the league early out of IMG Academy, how has that affected your career so far? Is it just maturity again or is there something else?
Simons: It’s mostly maturity. I think anybody that comes into the NBA that young is always going to run into some bumps in the road and grow up a little faster than normal, so I think those things took a little bit longer than usual, but over the past year I think I’ve grown a lot to become more mature.
BE: You won the 2021 NBA Slam Dunk Contest in March. How did that change your life and experience in the NBA?
Simons: It was just a great experience being able to seek something out, have a goal to win it and achieve those goals, so it was a great confidence booster for me to know that I belong in the NBA in a way of not fitting in, but in a way to show people that I can do multiple things. I think a lot of people didn’t even know I could jump that high. It was kind of a wakeup call to other people to show what I had other than what they saw on the court.
BE: You had a big dunk against the Los Angeles Clippers a few weeks ago. Where do you think that ranks in your career in-game dunks?
Simons: It’s definitely top three. I don’t know exactly which number yet, but it’s definitely top three for sure.
DUNK OF THE YEAR!??! pic.twitter.com/RsBXzMjGP3— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) November 10, 2021
BE: How has Coach Billups influenced your approach?
Simons: He’s always teaching me different things about the nuances of the game. He’s been extremely helpful because he teaches me different things that I never knew or even thought about. We have a great relationship. We’re very straight forward with each other about things so I think it’s going to help me to get to where I want to be.
BE: What are your personal goals for the rest of the season?
Simons: Just continue to get better. My goal at the start of the season was to be in the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year or Most Improved [Player], so I think those are my two ultimate goals.