Rumors suggesting the Portland Trail Blazers refused to sell Anfernee Simons to Aaron Gordon by this year’s trade deadline caused many fans to bark for Neil Olshey’s blood. Gordon, who was then sent to Denver Nuggets for a collection of players and a choice, ironically played a major role in the Blazers’ earlier than expected exit from the 2021 playoffs.
At the time, Olshey, president of Portland basketball operations, clearly saw something in the 6’3 guard, despite stepping out of the rotation as the March 25 deadline approached. . Fortunately, during the playoffs, Simons was an integral part of the Blazers roster, delivering an instant attack off the bench while helping to quell the impact of opposing perimeter players.
In the playoffs, Simons’ play began to resemble that of his new teammate Norman Powell who brought a dynamic and aggressive style to the team. These similarities gave us an interesting glimpse into the direction Simons’ development could take.
The deadline for exchanges
Simons was tagged by Did not play the decision of the coach three times in the week leading up to the deadline and played just 12 minutes in a resounding loss to the The Dallas Mavericks March 21th. His chances of returning to court were seriously shaken when the Blazers traded Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood to the Toronto Raptors for the Norman Powell shaped wing.
Powell became the Blazers’ fourth player at 6’3 “or less and, at the time, was expected to monopolize the minutes previously available for the new Slam Dunk champion. Powell came to the Blazers with a championship pedigree, exhilarating defense, the ability to reach the edge, and one of the most effective long-range shooting shots in the league.
The threat of being marginalized again at the end of the Blazers bench must have prompted Simons. Before the deadline, he looked uncertain on offense and mediocre on defense. While his shooting had improved from his first two seasons, the product IMG Academy didn’t quite manage to put him in place when the underachieving Blazers needed him the most.
But on April 16, in a match against the San Antonio Spurs, something happened. Simons had 16 points, scoring four of eight of three and playing a major role in the Blazers’ point win. It was a sign of things to come.
On April 27, Simons and the Blazers were back in shape by demolishing the Indiana Pacers on the road – the team had just enjoyed a demoralizing five-game losing streak. That afternoon, Simons recorded 27 points in 24 minutes and the Blazers returned to the winner’s list to kick off a grueling six-game swing on the East Coast that culminated in a 5-1 record.
From there, Simons got stuck in defense and hit what looked like every three-point shot, combining with Carmelo Anthony to be a real offensive threat off the bench. His game improved so much that during the stretch race, Simons edged out Derrick Jones Jr. and Nassir Little in the rotation, often playing alongside Powell, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
While Simons, at 22, is only scratching the surface after three years in the league, some traits are starting to shine through. Powell just turned 28, won a championship and is nearing the end of his second contract after six years in the league.
Powell also spent more time on the pitch in his first three seasons, playing 195 games, 16 of which started. Simons has played a total of 154 games, starting in five with an average of 16 to 17 minutes.
It is also important to note that Powell spent four years at UCLA and Simons only one at IMG Academy. As a result, Powell began his career with the Raptors at age 22, with teenage Simons joining the Blazers at age 19. Therefore, Simons is currently the same age as Powell when he entered the league.
While both wings – or guards depending on your preference – share the same height, Powell has the longer wingspan at 6’9 “compared to Simons’ 6’7”. Powell is clearly the best transition player – an unstoppable force every time he gallops to the rim. Simons is the best ball handler with a better view of the field, which allows him to bring his teammates into real scoring positions.
Both are athletic monsters, explosive, leaping jumpers with the ability to cut through traffic and end up on the edge. Both can create shots for themselves at all three levels, a skill the Blazers need outside of Lillard and McCollum since Nicolas Batum was in black and red.
While it’s difficult to compare each player’s 2020-21 season due to their varying roles on the roster, it might be fair to compare the seasons where Powell and Simons played similar minutes, took a similar number of shots. and were at similar stages of their development.
For the purposes of this exercise, we will be using Powell’s 2018-19 season (his fourth). The then 25-year-old championship year saw the Raptors’ steady production come off the bench behind Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. For Simons, we take a look at his final season, the third for the 21-year-old, playing the understudy of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Powell.
Below you can see the two played similar roles on the bench, recording minutes, shots, three-point percentages, blocks, free-throw percentages, rebounds, assists, and points. incredibly identical.
It’s strange how similar these numbers are across the board, especially the number of field goals taken (Powell with 6.7 and Simons with 6.3) and the actual field goal percentage ( Powell with 56.8 percent and Simons with 56.9 percent).
Both can definitely shoot, with Simons the 14th most efficient three-point shooter in the league this season. Powell came in 29th place.
While the offensive numbers highlight some important similarities, it’s important to note that factors such as team patterns, staff, and rotations from different seasons need to be taken into account.
On the defensive side of the ball, Simons increased his intensity and intelligence by keeping the best players on the perimeter. However, he falls short of Powell who, thanks to his longer wingspan and physique, can keep considerably larger wings – just ask Michael Porter Jr. The advantage goes to Powell right now, but Simons has shown that he has what it takes to be above the average defender.
Money and contracts
Simons has just completed the third year of his rookie contract, which will net him nearly $ 4 million next season before becoming a restricted free agent in 2022. Powell still has a year on his current contract, but with an option to $ 11.6 million player for the next season, he’s almost certain to step down and receive a big pay raise. The Blazers have indicated their intention to keep him but how far will they go?
If that argument holds true, Simons could have an increased impact on Portland’s game over the next several years. The Blazers should make every effort to retain Powell’s services during the offseason. And they should. But if Simons continues on that path, he could be the natural replacement in two or three years, allowing the Blazers to move Powell for a replacement in a position of need.
Just to be clear: we’re not suggesting that if Powell were to rush this offseason, then Simons could instantly take on the role of shooting guard or small forward roles. Simons is a guard and should only play in point or shooting guard positions. But he has the athleticism, body shape, skill, and natural ability to be on par, if not better, than Powell.
Simons has all the tools available to match Powell’s exit at both ends of the pitch and with similar measures of shooting, rebounding, facilitation and defense, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.