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2022-23 All-Star Break Blazers Season Review: Anfernee Simons

Anfernee Simons’ first season as a Day One starter has offered plenty to watch for in 2022-23. What stands out the most?

Houston Rockets v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

A few weeks ago on the Dave and Marlow podcast, I proposed that nearly every season in recent Portland Trail Blazers memory has followed a distinctly-similar five-phase process. You’ve likely experienced it enough to know how it goes, but it generally the bingo board reads as follows:

  • Phase 1: The “this team looks like it could make a lot of noise in the postseason” phase. Often, reality hits by late-November, though there’s normally a brief period in which the fresh-legged Blazers look like a true force to be reckoned with for a few weeks.
  • Phase 2: The “Blazers score 120 and still find a way to lose games” phase (often occupied by historic Damian Lillard performances)
  • Phase 3: The “midseason doldrum” phase (often occupied with falling below .500 and promptly followed by the “is it time to trade [insert undersized two-guard] discussions until mid-February)
  • Phase 4: The “flip the switch” phase (often occupied by more historic Lillard performances and a late-season charge to steal one of the competitive Western Conference’s final Playoff spots.
  • Phase 5: The “competitive first round exit” phase in which the Blazers provide a valiant five or six-game effort, kick the can down the road, and try again during the ensuing season.

Over his five-year career, offensively-brilliant star guard Anfernee Simons has already gotten to experience a few iterations of said phases. But prior to this year, he had never been this intertwined into those developments, moonlighting as the second or third-best player on the Blazers roster throughout the 2022-23 season thus far.

Personally speaking, what we’ve learned about Simons thus far this season has been what we mostly knew: at 23-years-old, he’s an infinitely-talented offensive player with the counters, creativity and confidence of a veteran ten years his senior. But, because his predecessor, now of the New Orleans Pelicans, held many of those similar traits, there’s some question as to if there’s some redundancy with the Lillard-Simons pairing, which led to him being a popular throw-in to trade deadline talks among Blazers fans.

That, though, remains a question for another day. In terms of his on-court production, Simons’ thrilling growth as a first-year star on a team with postseason aspirations has stood out. Here are a three aspects worth noting at the All-Star break:

No. 1. Simons is shooting a career-high at the rim and from midrange

Perhaps there’s just something in the water in the Pacific Northwest; both “Batman” and “Robin” in the Blazers’ backcourt are putting together career seasons as it relates to offensive efficiency. In Simons’ case, there weren’t many seasons to compete with, but it doesn’t make his elevation in that regard any less impressive. For reference: there have been 51 players to shoot at least 85 shots from the 10-to-16 range this season. Simons’ eFG% (54.7) ranks third, trailing only future Hall of Famers Kevin Durant (60.5 percent) and Kyrie Irving (55.6 percent).

The 65.2 percent from the 0-to-3-foot range as a guard is equally impressive. For context, Russell Westbrook, one of NBA history’s most feared rim attackers, had a career-best of 65 percent; the sample size difference should be considered, though it gives you an idea of how pinpoint-accurate Simons is when he decides to get downhill.

One unique staple that continues to showcase itself in Simons’ game is this unorthodox hook shot, an unstoppable counter against (normally) bigger defenders. “Unstoppable” in this sense wouldn’t be an understatement — according to, he’s hit on a whopping 73.9 percent of these shots (17-of-23), either “driving hook shots” or “driving bank hook shots.”

Needless to say, Simons has already taken on that Lillard-like, McCollum-esque torch in becoming one of the NBA’s most feared ice-in-vein scorers. Whether he’s shooting 3-of-15 or 9-of-15 — and he’s had a handful of both instances — one of those signature, “this is my quarter”-type takeovers never feels far away. To illustrate, he has three(!) 20-point quarters in 2022-23 trailing only Luka Doncic, Lillard and Irving. For a No. 24 selection, he’s certainly out punched his weight, particularly on that side of the ball.

Though, on the flip side:

No. 2: The shot selection can sometimes leave a little bit to be desired

Some of this is to be expected when you have supremely-confident bucket-getters. Though, in taking notes on Simons and the Blazers’ offense as a whole, one could say that Portland sometimes relies heavily on the “good offense beats better defense mantra.”

Simons’ efficiency numbers suggests he hits enough of these shots at a respectable enough clip that one can’t classify it as a “flaw,” but his shot charts are littered with attempts that look a like like this, with the occasional over dribble and / or unnecessarily-tough shot:

Though, as said above, when it’s on and working, there are few sights across the Association that are as aesthetically-pleasing to watch, such as this bucket here on Simons’ cross screen into a pindown for a 3-pointer. It’s a tough shot diet to live by, although he’s proven plenty capable of it.

The numbers suggest something similar. BBallIndex’s tracking gives him an “F” in terms of 3-Point Shot Quality, and only five players have taken more 3-pointers deemed “tight” by’s metrics than Simons has. But when you’re NBA history’s youngest player to ever hit 100+ 3-pointers in your first 25 games and you’re the sixth player ever to have five different games with nine 3-point makes at age 23, odds are, you’re doing something right.

On that note, it did take Simons a whopping 24 games to put together back-to-back games where he shot above 50 percent this season, remarkable given his offensive explosions particularly earlier in the year. To his approach, there are both advantages and drawbacks, and both deserve to be considered.

No. 3: What’s the prevailing thought on defense?

The Blazers are a team with plenty of flaws on the defensive end. Among the ones that come up most often — and stop me if you’ve heard this before — is that they’re often far too small to compete on that end, especially against teams who both: (a) run sets to attack it, (b) have generally lengthy starting lineups. (See: Toronto, Denver, etc).

In terms of Simons, one thing that generally comes up is that teams will sometimes go into a full-on hunt in the pick-and-roll in order to get bigger players matched up onto him. To use an example from earlier this season.

Those problems become even more exacerbated when offenses find a way to get both Lillard and Simons into focus, prompting miscommunications and over-helping across the defensive spectrum. Take this example here, where the Grizzlies run Dillon Brooks on a drag screen, and with the Blazers in a switch-everything forces Lillard to defend a Jaren Jackson Jr. post-up, and thus, the need for some assistance:

Watching the play in real-time, one might think this is an example of Simons playing poor defense. The reaction time and closeout could have been better, sure. Though, it’s just one example of how those size disadvantages have a little bit of a ripple effect. Portland’s defensive philosophy sometimes forces the guards into some tough situations — for example, Simons, at 6-foot-3 is tracked to have 6.1 rim contests per 75 possessions — though some of it just can’t be avoided in today’s NBA.

You couldn’t call him a “plus defender,” but Simons does have some positive traits on that end, particularly in navigating through screens when engaged or in some situations in man-to-man. Thinking about the Blazers’ trade deadline moves, the additions have produced, but one personally would have hoped to see more size being added, particularly to take some pressure off of the smaller players.

In the meantime, with the roster as currently constructed, they’ve set themselves up for tons more of those shootout-type games in which 120 points may not be enough. On the bright side, they’ve certainly got the backcourt capable of holding their own in that regard, though.

Other Stats That Stood Out:

  • Thus far, Simons has played 59 percent of his time at SG and 38 percent at PG.
  • Simons is No. 7 in the NBA in total minutes played (1,990).
  • In 279 minutes without either Lillard or Simons, the Blazers are a -16.19 per 100 possessions; in 1,140 minutes together, they are a -0.80 per 100 possessions.