Anfernee Simons’ Evolution Has Another Level, And The NBA Is About to See It

Bryant Knox, Oregon Sports News

Five years ago, before Anfernee Simons had made his NBA debut or was drafted 24th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers, ESPN’s Seth Greenberg broke down what we should expect of the then-18-year-old prospect.

“He’s going to be a good NBA player,” Greenberg said in 2018, citing every bit of Simons’ length, playmaking, shooting, and athleticism. “But people [will]need to be a little bit patient, even as young as the NBA is getting.”

As it’s turned out, Portland’s patience has paid off.

Over the last two seasons, Simons has transformed from a rail-thin shooter with mystery-box potential into a No. 1 option for the franchise that drafted him. Damian Lillard’s trade to Milwaukee was the kicker, but the now-24-year-old has made two separate, significant leaps in as many years, starting with his 2022 promotion after the CJ McCollum trade. Then, in 2022-23, he became Lillard’s official “1b,” averaging 21.1 points and 4.1 assists across 62 contests, all of which were starts.

At this point, Simons’ evolution has been fun, if not inspiring. It’s almost surprising when you realize we’re just a season-and-a-half into his time as a starter. Think about that. We’re just now entering the beginning of Simons’ prime, meaning the sixth-year guard isn’t approaching the final stage of his evolution—he’s entering Phase 1 as the nucleus of an NBA offense.

This season, Simons will be 24 years old during the entirety of the 2023-24 campaign. At this point, almost bizarrely, he owns the title of the longest-tenured player on Portland’s roster, making him a vet in so many senses of the word.

If, up until now, it’s felt like we’ve watched a kid reshape into a star, that’s because we have.

But if Simons’ ceiling is as high as we think, he’s not done yet.

*This is Part 3 of a full Portland Trail Blazers Player Preview series published on Oregon Sports News. Check back next week for two more installments from OSN’s Bryant Knox and Jared Wright, and scroll to the bottom to see which players OSN has already covered. 

Anfernee Simons 2022-23 Season Review

Team: Portland Trail Blazers

PositionSG (58%), PG (42%)

Size: 6’3”, 181 lbs

Games: 62 (Starter)

MPG: 35.0

Stats: 21.1 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 4.1 APG, 44.7 FG%, 37.7 3PT%, 89.4 FG%

The Trail Blazers endured another wash of a season by the end of 2023, their second of the kind since trading McCollum. At the end of the day, the tank to save Damian Lillard became the tank that tore it all down—likely for the better and, likely, better for every player involved.

After the Blazers shut down Lillard with ten games to go, Simons also continued to sit. That was part of what dropped this team toward the bottom of any League Pass rankings, but it’s also what landed the Blazers the No. 3 pick and Scoot Henderson.

The bulk of the year was tough to watch. However, it also paved a path for Simons, who now has a shot to shed anything left of his shell outside of Lillard’s shadow.

Without a good end-of-year sample from Simons—specifically, what he looks like as a lead guard on an intentionally bad team—we don’t have a lot to foreshadow. But at the same time, it’s easy to see Simons becoming a national name once unleashed. And that theme could hold true just as much on the court as in the rumor mill…at some point.

The Elephant In the Room

If you’re looking for prime trade candidates from Portland’s roster, it starts with Malcolm Brogdon. Jerami Grant quickly enters the chat, too, but Simons is someone to watch closely as GMs monitor his continued growth and new fit with the Trail Blazers.

Here’s the ultimate disclaimer to Simons trade talk: We probably won’t get any real smoke this season hinting at a Simons firesale. To suggest as much would be premature since flipping Simons in his first year starring as The Man could qualify as borderline basketball malpractice, at least in the eyes of many Rip Citizens.

Eventually, though, teams will call. And Cronin will entertain those calls. Because it’s important to remember, Simons wasn’t a prized draft pick of Cronin’s. The current GM won’t be nearly as attached to Simons as his predecessor was to CJ McCollum.

This season could end up with some uncomfortable forecasting as we look ahead, considering this year and the next few could go one of many, many ways.

But again, it would be way too soon to sound the alarm on a Simons deal, even if that talk might enter the stratosphere before the year comes to a close.

2023-24 Prediction

There’s nobody at Simons’ MIP odds or further that I’d take. The player Damian Lillard calls “Anferno” is up there for a reason.

One of those reasons is that the Trail Blazers, with respect to their rebuild, are not a serious franchise this season. Or at least they’re not serious contenders. Not most likely, at least.

Expecting this team to win meaningful games is asking a roster with an average age of 23 to make noise in a league full of LeBron James’s, Nikola Jokic’s, and, yes, Damian Lillard’s.

Simons may very well be the best player on this team when the year wraps. He could easily go down as this group’s MVP when the 2023-24 campaign is all said and done, posting career bests across the board, starting most notably in scoring, shot attempts, and usage.

If all the stars align, an All-Star berth isn’t out of the question for Simons. But this year, for Portland’s newest No. 1, it will be all about showcasing what he can do as a fast-paced, high-volume, looking-to-prove-himself scorer.

It won’t always be about how he can lead a young team to wins.

*Check out OSN’s Portland Trail Blazers Player Previews below:

Scoot Henderson

Malcolm Brogdon

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