With the Portland Trail Blazers in a free fall, having lost 8 of their last 10 games, guard Anfernee Simons is playing Caesar among a Senate of Portland fans. Aside from Damian Lillard, who has been injured enough to appear in only 11 of Portland’s 22 outings so far, Simons is the team’s leading scorer at 23.8 points per game. His shooting percentages have fallen to 42.8% from the field and 38.0% from the three-point arc, but those numbers are more than acceptable from a volume-scoring guard. Still, the Blazer’s Edge Mailbag is increasingly populated with submissions like this.
I’m getting sick of watching Anfernee Simons play. This is supposed to be a team. Do you think starting has gone to his head? He took a step forward last year and that’s fine but there was nobody else playing then. In my eyes he’s utterly failed to adapt to having teammates who can score too. I’m tired of one person scoring while everybody else watches. I’m afraid we’re doomed to more of what we’ve had with Dame and CJ with just a new name on the uniform instead. He scores alot. Is it time to trade Any?
Do you remember when everybody was picking on Britney Spears and one of her fans just lost it on video, crying out, “Leave Britney alone!” I feel like that fan right now, with Anfernee Simons instead. Leave Ant alone, y’all. It ain’t him.
Simons isn’t scoring instead of everybody else. Lillard is averaging 26.3 ppg playing alongside Simons. Jerami Grant scores 22.2. The Blazers have never had a trio average over 20 for a season. Something tells me they won’t this year either, but for now, there’s no reason to complain about scoring unless you want to argue that Jusuf Nurkic should be a bigger part of the offense. Some nights that’s true, but most nights, not.
The team’s per-minute scoring distribution is a little more top-heavy than it was back in 2019-20 or 2018-19—the last time the Blazers fielded viable teams—but not radically so.
I don’t think this team would have won more of the last 10 games had Simons given up more shots to other players. Grant has been scoring big-time during that stretch. I’m not sure force-feeding Josh Hart or Justise Winslow turns around the game, let alone the outcome.
And therein lies the heart of the matter...something I’ve said a couple times now and will repeat once more. The Blazers didn’t lose to the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night because Anfernee Simons scored 37 points on 24 shots, shooting 55% from the field and the arc. They lost because, in the critical moments of the game, he was the only scorer on the floor. Nor did the Blazers lose to the Los Angeles Lakers last night because Simons put up a less efficient 22 points on 22 shots, shooting only 2-7 from distance. They lost because they didn’t have 40% of their starting lineup, couldn’t defend L.A.’s big superstars, and didn’t have enough speed to stretch the defense to the arc, where the Lakers shot surprisingly well. Redistributing five of Simons’ shot attempts wouldn’t have taken care of that.
Damian Lillard is out. That’s a huge reason the Blazers are struggling right now. And that’s not even counting every time one of their forwards gets banged up, or in foul trouble, or is forced to play out of position at center or guard.
Over the last six games, in Lillard’s absence, Simons has scored 29, 20, 38, 15, 37, and 22 for an average of 26.8 points per game. He’s a 23-year-old guard in his first tour of duty as a legitimate starter, carrying the team as the number one option because the guy who was supposed to do it can’t right now.
What the hippety-hopping heck do you want from him?
Maybe... and it remains to be seen, but maybe... the Blazers are still constructed sub-optimally, with two non-defensive scorers at the guard spots. Maybe they’ll hit the same ceiling they did when CJ McCollum was starting. But even if so, that’s not Simons’ fault. He’s not the General Manager. All he can do is go out there, score, and draw defensive attention away from his teammates by doing so. If you think he’s not doing a superlative job of that, I don’t know how to help you.
Yes, there are bumps. I don’t know a player in Simons’ situation that wouldn’t have them. I also don’t know many with that lightning-quick release from the arc, deadly accuracy, and the ability to score in big enough droves to turn any game around. Everything in the world is focused on this guy right now and he’s still producing. To me, that’s all you can ask.
If Jerami Grant had to shoulder the same load because Simons was injured alongside Lillard, I don’t believe Grant could do any better. Probably not as well, in fact. And Grant has been one of the shining stars of the season.
The gap between Simons’ production and team results is real right now, but that’s not down to Anfernee. He’s a high-horsepower engine partially disconnected from the drive train. The solution isn’t to ditch the motor, or even to take the foot off the gas. Improve the system and you’re going to improve the results.
That’s not to say Simons should remain with the team forever. In some ways he is redundant. We’ve talked about those before and will again. But this here, right now? This is Anfernee Simons playing as well as could be expected in the midst of a pretty nasty storm. Given his age and experience, that’s to be praised, not condemned.
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