1 pleasant surprise that stood out for the Blazers during training camp 2021
Damian Lillard knew there was Something different about Anfernee Simons when the Portland Trail Blazers superstar saw a photo of her young teammate this summer. Suddenly it was obvious. Simons, inkless in the first three seasons of his NBA career, had a half-sleeve tattoo on his left arm – another milestone in the 22-year-old’s continued growth from notoriously shy teenager to gamer Portland’s potential in 2021-2022.
“I was just like ‘Dude, this dude is growing up’,” recalls Lillard with a laugh Wednesday after first noticing Simons’ tattoo. “He was 15 when he came here, now he has tattoos, he has a Hummer.”
Body art, expensive cars, and an obvious increase in overall strength and size aren’t the only indicators of Simons’ development as the regular season gets closer and closer. The fourth-year goaltender distributed six assists against the Golden State Warriors in Portland’s preseason opener, looking very comfortable in his new role as senior ball manager with the Blazers’ second unit. . More encouraging than his assists totals or even the eye test? In one game, the Blazers, exploiting Chauncey Billups’ offensive system for the first time against an opponent, committed a whopping 26 turnovers, none of which was due to Simons.
“In the last two weeks of training, they’ve been pushing me to be a good playmaker,” Simons said after practice Wednesday. “They emphasized that every day pushes me to become one. This is something new. I have never had someone push me to move forward in this position. They trust me to operate in this space, so it went well. I learn every day trying to improve myself.
The progress Simons made early in the season won’t necessarily translate into a significant increase in playing time. Portland is loaded on the perimeter, obviously, and the emergence of Nassir Little, another member of training camp, means that Billups won’t be forced to rely on three-guard lineups outside of his starting five. The surest indicator of Simons’ more subtle progress a year ago could also drop. He shot a scorching 51.4% on catch-and-shoot triples in 2020-21, by NBA.com/stats, third-best in the league and a single-season number that could prove unbearable even for the world’s most elite shooters.
The Blazers won’t be bothered by Simons’ return to earth, as long as it means an increase in the overall difficulty of his attempts. Shooting has been a known product for Simons since he was drafted, however. Questions about his role and ultimate cap have always revolved around Simons’ viability as a traditional playmaker or even as a reliable side playmaker, to which he barely answered positively when playing the goalie and the shooter. stationary under Terry Stotts.
But the frequency of his opportunities on the ball in recent seasons was almost as big an issue for Simons as his performance with it, and he clearly feels empowered by how Billups plans to use it. Lillard saw Simons’ newfound confidence in action on a specific possession of the show’s opening.
“He was under pressure once in the half court. In the past he would just let him put pressure on him and try to force a pass because he felt like he had to execute the attack and then someone kicked him back or something, ”said Lillard on Simons. “They pressured him, he walked around them, he came to the edge, floating out of the glass. It shows a different level of confidence and comfort to recognize this situation and react that way. “
It’s a run-of-the-mill game for Lillard, CJ McCollum, and the vast majority of proven playmakers in the league. Not for Simons, who only did 2.3 discs per game last season and shot a horrendous 24.4% from float range and 51.4% from restricted area. It goes without saying, a lot more off-dribbling verve and finishing dynamism than one would expect from a player who complements his sniping abilities with the type of explosive athleticism that made him the winner of the Last year.
Becoming a constant threat downhill in half-court and open ground is likely the Following next frontier for Simons. Portland will be more than happy for now as he simply embraces the mix of freedom and responsibility given to full-time point guard, while continuing to build on what has helped him break into the Blazers’ rotation. last season.
So far, so good.