Gary Trent, Jr. and Anfernee Simons have given the Portland Trail Blazers bright light this season, guiding them through their injury-riddled tunnel. Each guard is excelling with more playing time, greener green lights, and better-defined roles. The question remains: what happens next, especially when CJ McCollum returns? We address that issue in this edition of the Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
Ant and Trent are doing great! I hate to say it but it looks like CJ’s injuries might have given them the kick start they needed. Which do you like better and what do you think should happen when CJ comes back? I love them both and I want to see us develop the deepest back court in basketball with them.
They’re two different players, sharing the same real estate, playing their hearts out while halfway stuck in limbo.
Think of Simons and Trent, Jr. as Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, respectively.
Simons is flamboyant, devil-may-care. He can take opponents off the drive or hit a three before you can shout, “Don’t shoot that!” His game isn’t polished. He’s lacking defense. He’s not a great passer yet. What he lacks in completeness, he makes up for in brashness. Confidence is the key to unlocking his talent. If he’s second-guessing himself, he isn’t effective anymore. It’s better for him to trust how he sees the floor than to hesitate. Chances are, if it isn’t that way, he can reshape it to fit his perception due to his natural gifts.
Trent, Jr. is more precise, logical, a machine. Like Simons, he’s gifted. But he’s going to read where an opponent is trying to move the ball, or where the open space lies on his end. When he gets his hand on the rock, he’ll strip or rip it like clockwork. He’s more of a shooter than a scorer. Ultimately he’s more reliable, but he’s not going to bend the universe to his vision like Simons does.
Which player you like better will depend on what you’re looking for. Either can get you 20. Simons has a better chance to become a breakout star. Trent will be one of those players who helps every team he suits up for. If you need explosiveness and sky’s-the-limit play, lean towards Simons. If the top-of-the-mountain dependability—three-point shooting and defense in a second or third option—is your goal, go with Trent, Jr.
Even though the Blazers play Simons as a reserve point guard, he’s more of a shooting guard at this point of his career. He’s best with freedom to fire, regardless of who’s on the floor with him. He doesn’t have a chance of inhibiting the opponent’s point.
This brings up an issue, as Trent, Jr. is a shooting guard as well. Both share the blessing (or curse) of a future behind CJ McCollum.
It’d be hard to justify unseating CJ for Simons, as McCollum already provides most of what Ant could, even at his theoretical best. Trent, Jr. brings a different skill set and defensive mentality, but he’s starved for oxygen as long as CJ eats most of the playing time.
You can see the issue pretty clearly. Either McCollum needs to go or one of those guards does. Trent would be better as a complement to CJ long-term because of the contrast, but he’s also more ready to assume big minutes, which McCollum’s presence will not allow. Simons could be a dynamic sub, maybe even playing both positions, but the Blazers would sacrifice defense. Keeping up his current .400 three-point percentage would help. At least then they’d be retaining long-distance marksmanship. (Trent is currently shooting .430 from distance, McCollum .441.)
Trent, Jr. will become a restricted free agent this summer. Simons has another year before that opportunity arises for him. McCollum is under contract until 2024.
In the end, the Blazers will probably end up choosing between McCollum and Simons and Trent, Jr. and Simons. Even though the McCollum-Trent, Jr. combo is theoretically the best one, keeping both would be too expensive and the minutes too few to justify it.
Personally, I think Trent, Jr. is ready to step into a starting role and Simons makes a compelling “popcorn” scoring guard behind him. That combination would be cheaper than retaining McCollum, and CJ would draw more in return on the trade market.
Trent has a measure of control over his own destiny. If he signs a contract with another team that Portland’s not willing to match, the Blazers will lose him for nothing. Trading CJ would give them financial flexibility to match the offer, or at least allow them to spend money on different positions instead of three separate shooting guards.
The picture changes if you don’t believe in Simons or Trent, Jr., of course. Then the choice is obvious. But assuming that they’re both good, the Blazers have a pleasant problem, but one they need to resolve. Simons and Trent are different players destined to fill different roles. Portland will need to decide what they want and go for it, not letting the clock run out while they’re still making up their minds.
Thanks for the question! You all can send yours to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll try to address them!
—Dave email@example.com / @DaveDeckard / @blazersedge