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Anfernee Simons Looks to Fill Damian Lillard Void for the Trail Blazers

The young guard is stepping up after returning from injury.

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NBA: Washington Wizards at Portland Trail Blazers Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons has proven to be the lead guard, and key decision maker, of his team so far this season. Today the Athletic’s Jason Quick highlighted Simons’ development and emergence as the number one option in Portland in a piece posted by The Athletic this morning.

Quick mentioned the void that was left in Damian Lillard’s wake after the blockbuster trade before the season started.

Along with Simons, there were capable candidates on the Blazers’ rebuilding roster — veterans Jerami Grant and Deandre Ayton, and youngsters Scoot Henderson and Shaedon Sharpe — but none of the Blazers’ decision-makers were sure who was ready to assume the void left by the departure of franchise icon Damian Lillard.

Before the calendar has flipped to 2024, it is clear that player is Simons, a point that was emphasized once again Tuesday when the 24-year-old guard had 29 points during Portland’s 130-113 victory over the Sacramento Kings.

Quick also highlighted Simons’ growth as a decision maker in the offense, mentioning that Simons has begun to feel more comfortable running the show on the offensive end.

In his first five seasons, Simons could become rattled or taken out of rhythm when defenses threw a different scheme at him. Now, he anticipates and recognizes what teams are trying to do. Blitz him? Send two defenders when he isolates? Box-and-one?

“There’s only so much they can do,” Simons said of defenses. “And all the teams do the same thing. I know what to expect. The biggest difference for me is understanding what is being done out there. I’m picking it up faster, and that allows me to just play the game and not overthink it.”

Simons has averaged career-highs almost across the board this season. He is averaging 27.1 points, 5.3 assists, 3.1 rebounds, and 0.9 steals per game this season, all career-highs.

You can read Quick’s full article on Simons’ high level of play this season here.