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The Portland Trail Blazers guard is entering his third season in the NBA, a time when the 21-year-old loaded with talent could be expected to flourish. It’s altogether likely, however, that Simons could develop into a baller this season and still not receive enough minutes to adequately announce his arrival while playing behind Lillard and Cheap CJ McCollum Jersey.
It’s a tough reality for Simons. Had he been selected in 2018 NBA draft by a team that actually needed a guard, Simons might already be a rising star. As it turned out, he ended up in Portland, where the potent backcourt duo of Lillard and McCollum run the show.
Many in that situation might become frustrated. So far, not Simons. He said he doesn’t worry about what he can’t control and instead values all that he can learn from Lillard and McCollum while continuing to prepare himself to seize the moment when his time to shine arrives.
“I love being here, I love being in Portland, learning from Dame and CJ,” Simons said. “That’s the best backcourt in the league. I think learning from them, especially as a young guy coming out of high school, I just want to soak in as much as I can and keep learning from them. And then when my opportunity comes to go out there and play, I’ll be ready and be able to compete at a high level.”
SIMONS IS THE BACKUP POINT GUARD — SORT OF
Many outside of the organization wondered if Portland would sign a veteran point guard to back up Lillard, especially given that Simons’ minutes were inconsistent last season and when he did play, he wasn’t always able to handle important minutes.
Trail Blazers vs Warriors
Anfernee Simons shoots a three-pointer as the Portland Trail Blazers face the Golden State Warriors in an NBA game at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. Sean Meagher/Staff
Neil Olshey, president of basketball operations, didn’t see things that way. He declared last week that he already had a backup point guard and it was Simons.
Lillard shared in that vote of confidence.
“Ant is super talented,” Lillard said. “He came in the league young and it takes time. It takes experience.”
Simons, the team’s first-round pick in 2018, didn’t play in college but instead attended a prep school before becoming eligible for the draft. He played just seven minutes per game in 20 outings as a rookie. Last season, his on-court time elevated to nearly 21 minutes per game over 70 games.
Along the way, Simons flashed some brilliant moments.
Nov. 2-10, 2019: Simons had the most productive stretch of his career, scoring in double figures five consecutive times while averaging 15.8 points per game. He shot 27 of 55 (49%) from the field and 12 of 28 (42.3%) from three-point distance.
Jan. 1 at Miami: Scored 19 points with four assists and four rebounds, plus two vicious dunks against the Heat.
Feb. 12 at Memphis: Scored a season-high 22 points with seven rebounds in 28 minutes while making 6 of 7 three-point attempts.
Still, when the season restarted at the NBA bubble, Simons’ play became greatly reduced while the minutes for Lillard and McCollum increased. Granted, each of the eight bubble seeding games had playoff implications for the Blazers, so it made sense for the team to lean heavily on Lillard and McCollum. But at the same time, there were moments when it seemed that having a reliable veteran backup point guard to give Lillard some relief would have been nice.
But that didn’t convince Olshey, Lillard and coach Terry Stotts that the Blazers should acquire such a player and block Simons’ development.
All three pointed out that the team’s true backup point guard is essentially McCollum. Lillard played 37 1/2 minutes last season. That left 10 1/2 minutes available at point guard that were mostly gobbled up by McCollum, whom Stotts called a very good backup point guard.
McCollum played 36 1/2 minutes per game, with Gary Trent Jr. seeing a lot of time as his backup at shooting guard.
So why, Olshey said, would the team spend money on a veteran point guard who would see little time and probably wouldn’t be better than Simons, whom the team regards as a potential future star?
Cheap Carmelo Anthony Jersey has started an informal petition for the Portland Trail Blazers to give him the No. 7 of the team. That number was last worn by Cheap Brandon Roy Jersey, one of the best players the Blazers and the league have seen in recent years. The shooting guard was something else, an incredible talent that couldn’t reach his full potential due to injuries.
After he retired from the league in 2013, nobody used that jersey on the Blazers but Melo wants to change that. While talking to reporters on media day, Anthony revealed his desire to use the No. 7 jersey, the number he used during his time with the New York Knicks. Back in the day, Melo explained that was the subtraction of his prior numbers, 22 and 15. Since neither is available on the Blazers, Melo has decided to make a push for No. 7.
“If Portland gives me number 7 this year, I’ll be happy. I’ll be thrilled. We need a petition for that. We need a petition, I need number 7.”
Last season he decided to wear #00 but this year things could change.
Some Blazers fans are cool with the idea and some are pushing for the team to make it happen. The NBA starts Dec. 22 and we’ll see what number the future Hall of Famer will be using.
Speaking of McCollum …
He is a prime example of a player who didn’t do much his first two seasons and then came into his own in Year 3. McCollum averaged under seven points per game during his first two seasons and then struck with 20.8 in his third season.
The differences between McCollum and Simons, however, are twofold. First, McCollum was afforded a chance to shine after the team didn’t re-sign guards Cheap Wesley Matthews Jersey or Arron Afflalo.
Also, McCollum’s third season came after having played four years of college basketball at Lehigh. Simons attended a prep school for one year before becoming draft-eligible and is only 21 now.
FOLLOWING TRENT’S EXAMPLE
Taken in the second round of the 2018 NBA draft was guard Gary Trent Jr., who unlike Simons had the benefit of playing at Duke. Still, he was taken much later than Simons, yet has become more of a factor sooner.
Gary Trent Jr., Anfernee Simons
Rookies Cheap Anfernee Simons Jersey, left, and Cheap Gary Trent Jr. Jersey dance during the Portland Trail Blazers’ annual preseason fan fest at the Moda Center on Sunday, September 30, 2018. Sean Meagher/Staff
Lillard last season raved about how much Trent had grown from his rookie year. Trent really blossomed at the bubble, where he shot the lights out, ultimately finishing the season at a team-high 41.8% on three-point field goal attempts.
Simons said what he has learned most from watching Trent’s ascension came at the defensive end. Trent’s aggressiveness on the perimeter, getting in the faces of scorers and relentlessly harassing them, has impressed Simons.
“That’s something that I really didn’t do last year that I should have,” Simons said. “I was more of a conservative (defender). Tried to not foul.”
That didn’t work out too well.
“I ended up getting a lot of fouls anyway,” said Simons, who averaged 1.9 personal fouls over 20.7 minutes played per game.
Simons said he hopes raising his defensive play will help make him more valuable, as it did Trent.
PG SUMMER SCHOOL
This leads us to the question of what Simons truly is as a player. He hasn’t really operated well as a backup point guard, averaging just 1.4 assists per game last season. That’s not very point guard-like. Simons is probably best described as a combo guard who leans more toward being a natural shooting guard.
“I think I can play both,” Simons said. “Growing up my natural position was the 2 because I could score the ball so well. So, I think eventually I can grow into being a point guard. But my natural position right now is the 2-guard, being able to score.”
Developing as a point guard could be a must for Simons to see more playing time this season.
He said he spent a lot of time this offseason in Santa Barbara, California, working diligently on developing his point guard skills. Reading defenses. Directing an offense. Making better decisions. Identifying passing angles.
Portland Trail Blazers vs Philadelphia 76ers
Cheap Damian Lillard Jersey (#0) chats with Anfernee Simons (#1) during a break in action as the Portland Trail Blazers face the Philadelphia 76ers an an NBA game at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. Sean Meagher/Staff
Developing as a passer, he said, would make him more of a double threat and further enhance his scoring.
“Just trying to take the pressure off of myself from just trying to be a scorer every single time I come down the floor,” he said.
Lillard said he worked out with Simons during the offseason when they were in the same city and believes his time to shine is coming.
“It’s just a matter of being able to think the game fast, being able to be consistent, being able for the team to count on you, regularly,” Lillard said.
Simons said Lillard has been a good teacher, taking the time to explain the details of playing point guard.
“I think him being there and kind of coaching me up and teaching me everything has helped me out a lot this summer …” Simons said. “Him being in my corner is always a blessing.”
At some point this season, it’s likely that the Blazers will need Simons to step up in a meaningful game. The team won’t have a veteran to turn to, but will put its faith in a still-developing 21-year-old oozing with talent but short in experience.
“I believe in Ant,” Lillard said.
That vote of confidence could be enough to push Simons to greater heights.