When establishing a roster, it’s important to have depth on the roster, especially from the lead guard position. When it comes to the Portland Trail Blazers’ second unit, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have had to carry a bulk of the minutes. Anfernee Simons seemed to be in a bit of a funk during his sophomore season (2019-20), but he is developing nicely and it will be showcased this upcoming season with larger minutes and a bigger role.
We saw a glimpse of potential with the very last game of the season Simons’ rookie year where he dropped bombs all over the Sacramento Kings with 37 points. With inconsistencies of playing time and use, Simons shot just 39.9% from the field and only 33.2% from three for an underwhelming sophomore year. He averaged 8.3 points and played 20.7 minutes per game. Since then, he had a pretty eventful third year.
Last season, he averaged only 7.8 points but shot stupendously from beyond the arc at a 42.6% clip, making him 14th best in the league. He shot this efficiently on 4.4 attempts per game and played the second least amount of minutes (17.3; Georges Niang, 16.0) of the top 25 shooters. His confidence was brewing last season as he was able to pick his spots to get buckets and he had a great support system backing him.
It can’t get any better when the franchise’s best player is always voicing positives about you. Anfernee went off against the Indian Pacers and hit nine consecutive three-pointers coming within one of a new NBA record. Lillard stated:
“I’m his biggest supporter,” Lillard said of Simons. “I just got a lot of confidence in him. I know how talented he is, I know how much ability he has, and when he gets in those positions I’m just always trying to encourage him to keep going. Don’t be shy, don’t worry about what people might think.”
Outside of hitting the long ball at a consistent clip, Simons has sneaky athleticism. He’s long, wirey, and doesn’t look like he would necessarily exude an abundance of explosiveness, but boy can he fly. At the 2018 NBA Draft Combine, he recorded a 41.5 in. vertical and has put it on display when he feels like putting on a show. His favorite player of all-time (also mine) is Tracy McGrady, which is the jersey he donned to become the 2021 NBA Dunk Contest Champion. Furthermore, Simons has another leader to guide him the right direction: new head coach Chauncey Billups.
The Billups Effect
Unlike Terry Stotts, Billups was a point guard. He played for several NBA teams and won a championship and the finals MVP with the Detroit Pistons after defeating the star-studded Los Angeles Lakers. He wasn’t the most efficient player (41.5% FG for career) but was a darn-good shooter from three (38.7% for career) and as clutch as they come, hence the name ‘Mr. Big Shot’. His other nickname was ‘Smooth’ and that defines Simons. He plays the game at his own pace and has tremendous poise. With his baby face and lack of much expression, it shows he doesn’t get rattled when the going gets tough.
Having a young coach who played the same position can surely help with an understanding and grasp of the game. Billups was able to do this with not being nearly as quick, fast, or athletic as Simons is, but he knew how to pick his spots for postups and pull-up jumpers. When one doesn’t possess great speed and athleticism, it becomes a game of chess where you have to really out-think your opponent. That’s an adjustment Billups can make with Simons to push him to even another several levels.
I hope Simons has big expectations and personal goals for this upcoming season. My Simons goal for next season is for him to at least be in the conversation for sixth man of the year, if not win it. This is a bold prediction of mine, but I think it is attainable for him to at least be in the conversation and would be a tremendous feat for a young player. He will be playing more minutes and with the losses of Carmelo Anthony and Gary Trent Jr. last season, he will have an extensive role with the second unit. He can be one of the leaders in three-point percentage, even if his volume increases because he’s only going tweak his play to higher heights. It should be to the point where Lillard and McCollum can take longer breathers due to great game management from Simons. This situation is similar to Jamal Murray and Monte Morris (one of the best backup point guards in the league).
Although he has the ‘Morgan Freeman effect’ where he doesn’t age at all, he turned 22 years old in June. Babyface Fern has what it takes to make that name for himself. With a new coaching staff, larger expected role, and a real off-season this time around, an improved Anfernee Simons awaits us all. Don’t be dubious out there; he’ll keep firing and it will do wonders for the Blazers moving forward.