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Anfernee Simons’ Recent Run with the McCollum-Less Blazers Shows Steady Improvement

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Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons put together a 21-game run for steady improvement prior to the 2021 All-Star break.

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Philadelphia 76ers v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Don’t look now, but Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons is starting to make good on his overwhelmingly high upside. Simons’ rise, that was aided by the void created by CJ McCollum’s injury absence, has featured steady improvements in several key offensive areas. With Simons set to take center stage in Sunday’s three-man dunk competition at the 2021 NBA All-Star Game, here is a look at how the former IMG Academy star has increased his output in his third season.

A Look at the Numbers

In his most-recent run of 21 games, Simons has blossomed into the Blazers’ fifth-leading scorer (10.2 points per game) and has he drastically improved his shooting efficiency across the board. Last season, Simons finished with a less-than-ideal 39.9 field goal percentage and a 33.2 three-point percentage. Following McCollum’s exit, in a defined roll off the bench, Simons has blown past his previous struggles. In those outings, Simons is shooting 42.4 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from beyond the arc.

Outside of those steady gains, Simons has clearly committed to a floor-spacing style that opens up the floor for his second-team running mates. The former first-round pick is averaging 8.1 field goal attempts per game during the Blazers’ McCollum-less run. Of those 8.1 attempts per game, 5.8 of them are coming from beyond the arc. Coupled with his improved shooting percentages, Simons’ new emphasis on the long ball has raised his effective field goal percentage to 57.9 percent—good for the fourth-best percentage among Blazers players during that run.

Highlights Don’t Lie

Simons’ improvements go beyond just advanced stats, though. The 21-year-old guard has thrived in multiple offensive scenarios. In both off-the-dribble and catch-and-shoot situations, Simons has shown clear improvement. That development was on full display during the Blazers’ late-January matchup with the Thunder. Simons showcased his ability to generate offense from all three level en route to a 26-point night.

Melo’s Fruitful Forecast & Context

Before Simons started to blossom in the aftermath of McCollum’s injury, veteran forward Carmelo Anthony predicted that the Orlando native was positioned for big things. In an interview with The Athletic’s Jason Quick, Melo pointed out that Simons’ future was built upon a sturdy foundation.

“Ant is good. I can tell you that internally,” Anthony said. “We see him every single day. We see what he is trying to do, we see him taking it all in as far as the education of the game, the knowledge of the game. Asking questions to the right people, asking the right questions. And just his game, and the way he has grown over the past couple of years.”

Even after making good on Melo’s forecast, Simons still has ground to cover in his effort to step out from the shadow of Gary Trent Jr’s rapid ascension and Neil Olshey’s lofty praise. Looking to the immediate future, he can put an exclamation point behind his latest 21-game run with a dunk competition title on Sunday. All things considered, Simons’ recent stretch of steady output is a promising trend in the right direction.