The Blazers are a mess this season. Injuries have hit them like a freight train. Dame has missed 22 games and could be done for the year. His sidekick, C.J. McCollum, missed 18 contests. Up-and-coming young wing Nassir Little recently went down with a season-ending shoulder injury.
Injuries, as well as questionable roster construction, are the reason Portland is 10 games below .500. Their struggles are making a roster overhaul inevitable.
Amid the chaos, a star has blossomed. That guy is Anfernee Simons, and he is the savior of Portland’s sinking franchise.
If you haven’t paid any attention to the mediocre Blazers, you’ve probably missed the young guard’s rise. During Dame’s absence, Simons has stepped up in a huge way. Across 15 games in January, he scored 23 points per game and dished out 7 assists per game while shooting 46% from the field and 43% from three.
A player who puts up those numbers across a whole season is an All-Star. Ant is efficient and multi-dimensional. Let’s take dive into Portland’s new franchise player.
The standout attribute of Simons’ game is obviously his ability to get buckets. He gets it done in multiple ways and does it extremely effectively.
Overall this season he’s hit right around 40% (39.6%, to be exact) of his deep-range shots while shooting 7 a game. In January, he hit the three-ball at a 43% clip on 10.5 attempts per game.
He’s also knocked down 45% of his mid-range tries and finished 55% of his shots at the rim. This efficiency is very impressive considering only 42% of his baskets are assisted (that number dropped to 36% in January). He’s a high-level shot creator, using his crafty handle to create space for his smooth jumper.
He loves stopping and popping- if a defender loses him on a screen, he makes them pay.
Plus, as most small guards do, Ant’s got a nice floater game.
Since Ant is such a good scorer, he gets a lot of defensive attention. So when the defense keys in on him, he takes advantage of it and gets his teammates easy buckets.
His assist percentage was at 11.4% in the 2020-21 season, and it’s jumped to 21.1% this season. Ant’s growth as a floor general makes him a much more reliable offensive centerpiece.
The hole in Ant’s game is his defense. His defensive RAPTOR has been at the lower-end of the league since his rookie year. He’s at -2.4 this season, which is bottom 20 out of players with 700+ minutes played. However, as proven by top point guards such as Trae Young, you don’t need to be a lockdown (or even a plus) defender to be an elite player.
Over the last month, it’s become very clear that Anfernee Simons is that guy. He has all the tools needed to be an All-Star soon. He’s just 22 years old, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he can be the core piece of a Portland rebuild.
The man holding back a reconstruction is Damian Lillard. He wants to be a Blazer for life, and as long as a player like him is on your team you should always try to contend. Unfortunately, they can never get it done. Every successful regular season is followed by a disappointing post-season in Portland.
With that in mind, is it time to move on from Dame? If he is traded one day, Anfernee Simons will be there to take over the team. He’s a budding superstar.