With the Portland Trail Blazers’ 2022-23 season in the rear-view mirror it’s time to look back on individual player performances. Shooting guard Anfernee Simons entered the year with a new starting role and higher expectations than he had faced at any point prior. How’d he do? Let’s take a look.
Per Game Stats:
— 21.1 points per game (Career high)
— 2.6 rebounds per game
— 4.1 assists per game (Career high)
— 44.7 percent from the field (Career high)
— 37.7 percent from 3-point range
— 89.4 percent from the free throw line (Career high)
25.1% usage percentage (Career high)
+5.4 on-off swing (No. 4 among current Blazers)
54.8% effective field goal percentage
Season in Review
Anfernee Simons entered his first season as a full-time starter with expectations ranging from glorified sixth man to potential NBA All-Star. His scoring run to end the 2021-22 season led many to believe that he was poised to make a big jump, and that he could help replace the scoring void left over from the mid-season trade of CJ McCollum the year prior.
Simons responded to the doubters, and proved the believers right, by posting career highs almost across the board. He emerged as the team’s second-leading scorer, showing that the Blazers made the right decision by extending his contract this past off-season. The 23-year-old proved that he had what it takes to be a high level contributor in the NBA.
Simons enjoyed a great start to the year as he averaged 24.8 points through his first 21 games. He had plenty of big moments during that stretch, including a game winner against Phoenix to help the Blazers’ hot start.
ANFERNEE SIMONS COMES UP CLUTCH IN OT‼️ pic.twitter.com/DWfyKhXXQ6— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 22, 2022
His scoring fell off a bit after that as he averaged just 19.1 points for the final 41 games he played, and the Blazers went just 16-25 in those games. However, in those games Simons’ shooting percentage went up. It was his usage percentage and shot attempts that were the main culprits behind his scoring decline.
Simons filled the role of a three point scorer who has the tools to score from anywhere. Simons shot 52% of his total shots from three. 28% of his shots came from the mid-range, and 21% came around the rim. His great season behind the arc was awarded with an invite to the three-point contest during NBA All-Star Weekend, which he had to miss due to injury. The invite came just two seasons after he was crowned the Slam Dunk contest champion, proving he is much more than just a shooter.
Simons can score from anywhere on the floor, but specializes as an elite three-point threat. His all-around game is enough to force defenses to respect the possibility for a drive. He uses that to his advantage to get high percentage shots from the arc. He shoots 45% on three-point attempts that are classified as wide open, 38.3% when the closest defender is 4-6 feet away.
Simons’ role as the off-guard when Damian Lillard is on the court also contributes to his ability to get open. Simons was assisted on 69% of his made threes this season.
Starting next to Lillard meant that Simons was going to have to learn how to be productive without the ball in his hands. He ranked 16th in the NBA in miles travelled per game with 2.58. He was active off the ball and allowed for the offense to develop around him while he remained a threat from wherever he was.
Defenses having to respect a non-Lillard shooter from deep to the extent that Simons was respected opened up the offensive side of the court for players like Lillard and Jerami Grant to be able to operate in isolation.
Overall, when he was on the court with other high-level scorers, Simons thrived in the role of a release valve out of an isolation possession.
Being the lead guard
Simons could perform with the ball in his hands too. He had a usage percentage of 28.2% this season in games Lillard didn’t play. That would put him at around 23rd in the league this season, just below Kyrie Irving. That level of usage is usually reserved for high-level guards, or superstar forwards and centers. Simons averaged 27.9 points and 5.7 assists in those games without Lillard.
Chauncey Billups seemed to really like seeing Simons play flanked by four bench players. Those lineups provided the main glimpse of Simons as lead guard when Lillard played. Here, Simons left something to be desired. Those units often struggled to score. They also struggled to stop the other team from scoring. How much of that was Simons’ fault, and how much of it was due to having four members of the NBA’s lowest scoring bench unit on the court? Probably more of the latter. However, it was difficult to watch Simons run headfirst into a brick wall on almost a nightly basis with no real scoring threats around him.
Simons’ playmaking is another area that needs growth. His assist to usage ratio ranked in the 21st percentile among combo guards. He often looked to score, passing only when he was unable to get separation from his defender after 15 or even 20 seconds ran off the shot clock.
The main knock on Simons is his lack of defensive prowess. He finished the year with a -2.5 in defensive box +/-, meaning he allowed 2.5 points per 100 possessions more than the average player would. He finished 189th out of 190 eligible players, ranking above only Jalen Green of the Houston Rockets.
The eye test is not forgiving either. The Blazers aren’t exactly fielding a murderer’s row of defensive stoppers, so not all of it is on one person. Being paired up alongside another non-defending guard in Lillard didn’t help. That being said, Simons didn’t do much to bring that group up. When the scoring stops for the Blazers, or Simons for that matter, their defense isn’t sufficient to keep a game close.
It is difficult to hide two non-defenders on defense, but that is what the Blazers tried to do most of the season to no avail. Simons looked lost on the court defensively at times, but then again, so did the rest of his team.
Overall, Simons had a good year and showed promise. There is still room for improvement in almost every facet of his game, but the basics are there. If he wants to be one of the guards of the future for the Blazers, he needs to improve on two things above all else: playmaking and defending. He needs to be able to facilitate the offense when Lillard is on the bench and he needs to be able to at least hold his own on the defensive end.
Simons’ scoring and shot-making are the best aspects of his game at this stage of his career. He is a great off-ball partner for Lillard and is almost the perfect offensive weapon for this current iteration of the Blazers.