How Anfernee Simons can become a full guard

From April 2019 to the present, Portland Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons has had a rollercoaster year. The ant colony (is this a trademark?) Grew after he led an inspiring comeback against the Kings with a 37-point burst to secure the third seed in the playoffs for the Blazers. He got bigger when he dominated the Summer League, averaging 22 points on 56% shooting, including a scorching 65% of three (this is not a typo). And the colony expanded a bit more earlier this season, as he seemed increasingly capable as a sixth man for Portland, scoring in double digits in seven of the first 10 games.

But as the season progressed, Simons hit a few obstacles. He had to fight terrifying wounds. His shot hit some cold stretches, including an abysmal January where he fired only 35% of his shots and 23% of his three. His defense has never been enough to make up for it and he has not shown that he can generate offenses for others (just 1.5 assists per game). The plus-minus player hit, one of the most trusted advanced metrics, has it at its worst in the league -5.34.

Simons has struggled this year, but that’s not out of the ordinary for a player as young as himself. The fact is, Simons will continue to get minutes on the NBA restart even with the return of players like Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins. So what can you do to be a viable third or fourth guard for the Blazers?

One of the best things about Simons is that he is a young player who can generate his own shot. Their percentages are quite low. He’s shooting 40% from the field and 34% from three, but he can still use a variety of dribble moves to break free for a decent look. Still, separation doesn’t matter unless it results in points for you or your teammate. Simons has struggled to do both.

Anfernee Simons shooting box

Simons has never boasted of a great vision. He has posted an attendance rate of 10% so far, which is at the bottom end of the NBA guards. He doesn’t turn the ball a ton (he’s averaging less than one rotation per game), but that doesn’t mean much considering his mindset is almost always the first to score.

Many of Simons’ attempts come after excessive dribbling, which is something Nate Mann pointed out in December. Almost 46% of his shots came after more than 3 dribbles. He’s also not using his abilities to get close to the basket, settling down too often for mid-range jumpers (he’s only averaging around 0.76 points per possession on those shots). He’s only doing about 51% of his shots within 10 feet, setting himself up too often for tough floats.

One other thing Mann noted is still true: Simons might be best suited off the ball. Its catch and launch numbers aren’t particularly good yet (just 34% of three), but they’re still better than its pull-up shot numbers (34.9% overall, 32.1% of three). His creation of shots is useful at times, but pairing him more often with Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum should benefit him in some way. The rotation should be theoretically tighter (especially with the news of Trevor Ariza’s decision to stay out), which means we will see more lineups where he has another creator like Lillard or McCollum to take the pressure off. Having another guard who can be the main creator would greatly help Simons.

Defensively, it is difficult to see a path to immediate improvement. The reality is that he will continue to be bad as long as he is on the court on the defensive side. Its smaller size means it works defensively, and when it’s on the ground, the safest option is usually to protect the worst / smallest player on the ground.

Knowing that he will not be just another defender, what can Simons do to be more effective? We know that Simons is fast. It’s impressive length (almost 6’10 “wingspan). You can use those attributes as ways to force turnovers, assuming you’re in the right position.

Plays like this in the first game of the season serve as an example of what he can do. It’s not generating a lot of robberies right now, averaging 0.4 per contest. But he has shown good instincts in some multi-steal games. If you play play by play, you will see many bad offensive plays where Simons is in the right place at the right time. But occasionally you will see him using his speed and active hands to force turnovers.

These are the types of plays the Blazers need from Simons on the defensive end. Using his physical tools while limiting deficiencies in other areas, he becomes less responsible in defense. You will not become a defensive expert overnight, but you can alleviate some issues by using your length effectively.

With the news that Trevor Ariza will not be joining the Blazers at the NBA restart in Orlando, Simons will be far more important to the team’s rotation. Gary Trent Jr. will likely find himself playing in the top 3 in Ariza’s absence, which means more minutes on guard duty for Simons. If you can contribute in the ways mentioned above, you could gain enough time to regain some of that past magic.