Portland Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons is putting together a breakout 2021-22 NBA season, headlined by a blistering-hot January run. Since entering the starting lineup in the first game of the new year, Simons has averaged 26.1 points and 8.0 assists per game on 50 percent shooting from the field and 43 percent shooting from distance.
The numbers are so good, they’re catching the attention of the national media. In his list of NBA Second-Quarter Awards — which looks at games from December 2 through the third week of January — The Ringer’s Dan Devine spotlights Simons as the Most Improved Player of the Quarter.
Devine writes that Simons rise in the NBA has been a gradual, “step-by-step” process. He has had to endure growing pains as a prep-to-pro project and wait in the wings behind NBA stars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Now in his fourth season in the league and with the Portland backcourt decimated by injuries, Simons has risen to the occasion in grand fashion. Complete with a highlight reel of Simons best plays, Devine writes how Simons’ three-point threat and playmaking abilities have kept the Portland offense humming.
The Blazers have won five of nine with Simons at the controls; in that span, they’ve scored nearly 19 more points-per-100 with him on the floor than off of it. Some of that owes to the paucity of shot-creating options available lately on an injury-racked Blazers roster. Some of it, though, speaks to Simons’s spark off the bounce, the chemistry he’s quickly developed with Jusuf Nurkic, and the confidence that comes from spending three years preparing for an opportunity to present itself so you can seize it when it does.
Moving forward, the Blazers will have difficult decisions regarding who to keep from its talented but crowded and expensive backcourt. Simons’ recent emergence has been so impressive, Devine writes that it further complicates the decision-making process for the Portland front office.
If Simons can keep something like this up, though, it could influence the decision-making calculus—whether before next month’s trade deadline, or come the offseason—for a Blazers team that’s got more than $90 million in salary committed to Lillard, McCollum, and Powell for next season, and that’s about to see Simons enter restricted free agency.
We’ll have to wait and see what interim GM Joe Cronin plans to do with his crowded backcourt and flailing roster. It seems clear, though, that Simons has at least played his way into being a significant part of the planning—and, for the time being, a significant part of the on-court product.
Regardless of what the team decides to do in the future, Simons’ breakout has been a rare bright spot in a Portland season plagued by losses, injuries, and front office drama.
Elsewhere on Devine’s list, the Memphis Grizzlies were named the Team of the Quarter and Cleveland Cavaliers big man Kevin Love was named the Reserve of the Quarter. After a few seasons of discontentment in Cleveland, Love is coming off the bench and averaging 14.0 points and 7.1 rebounds in 21.3 minutes per game. He’s also shooting it from over 40 percent from distance. Love’s solid play is just one of the reasons why Cleveland is back in the Eastern Conference playoff race.