Last week I wrote a column highlighting the need to Portland Trail Blazers Trading Yusuf Nurkic. Oddly enough, the piece sparked more thoughts Anfernee Simons is moving From the great Bosnian.
It was great to read all of the unequivocally emotional comments. But unfortunately, none of them were enough to change my mind.
My position was strengthened this week, when Rose Garden Report’s Sean Heiken pointed it out The team may see a promotion at the position as her priority.
Over the past few days, I’ve pondered the comments and why some might operate under the misconceptions, ignoring three key points regarding the 23-year-old:
- It doesn’t necessarily build the Blazers front office for the season — there’s a bigger picture.
- Anfernee Simons is not CJ McCollum.
- Infernee Simmons, 23, has just under 30 starts alongside Damian Lillard.
I’ll go over each of those points and why Simmons needs to stay where he is for now.
Long term construction
With the partial tearing up of Portland’s roster this past February, a new schedule was in place. Crucial in this debate, Norman Powell and CJ McCollum were traded away “Create a runway” for Simmons to reach his potential.
The Blazers – in consultation with Damian Lillard (see below) – required time to properly repurpose that team, undoing questionable moves by the previous front office, using their new assets and flexibility.
It was clear to most that there was little way for Portland to be in a position to be competitive through 2022-23. There were commercial exceptions to use, assets to develop, other stars disillusioned, and draft picks paying off. Shaidon Sharp, Jabari Walker, Keon Johnson, Greg Brown III and Trendon Watford all needed time to develop.
As we stand here on January 7, 2023, Blazers are not a finished product. far from it. This is despite the fact that Lillard is 32 years old, with the number of raw games in his back pocket dwindling by the day.
Yes, the Blazers live in two timelines. But anyone who thinks it’s 2022-23 or bankruptcy needs to eliminate the need for instant gratification, if only for their own sanity.
Cronin admitted holes in this panel. He is fully aware of the lack of height behind Jusuf Nurkic and there is no clear answer in the forward’s small start. It was not done out of any carelessness and I believe it was not done out of lack of trying.
Among the many things that became increasingly frustrating to live in Neil Olschi’s shadow was creating the annual roster, using cheap parts that just didn’t fit. It was a flawed strategy that prevented the team from advancing.
But let’s take a look at what Cronin said to Danny Marang and Brandon Sprague on the Jacked Ramsay podcast in October.
“You know, we’re trying to build, this isn’t a winning list now as much, we haven’t pushed in all our chips yet. We haven’t signed players based on position over talent. We’ve been picking talent over need, basically throughout this whole process.”
“We knew there would be some topical redundancies and some topical glitches, and we’re okay with working through that because we’re trying to build our talent base, trying to build this culture that we’ve been talking about. And also we haven’t pushed all our chips as much, we haven’t made a big move Yet, like using the Future Capital Project or something like that.”
“And that comes with a lot of discussion with Damien about trusting where we’re going and trusting what Chauncey told him.”
Yes, he handed Nurkic a huge contract last season – arguably more than he deserves. But, to me, the rationale for this was to help match salary once they target the player they want to “push the chips” when they become available.
Anfernee Simons is not CJ McCollum
A number of comments have suggested that Simons was a carbon copy of CJ McCollum and would therefore produce the same results when paired with Lillard.
While it’s easy to classify Simons as just another McCollum-like vigilante, it’s not entirely accurate. Before we get into the duos as players, Simmons’ contract ($22,321,429 this season) is still much smaller than McCollum’s ($33,333,333 this season). This alone allows the team to improve the roster in ways CJ couldn’t.
Defense is the obvious concern in Simmons’ game.
Let’s start with the physical features. Wikipedia lists Simmons at 6’3. He’s not, he’s said publicly that he’s not sure how tall he is now. I would suggest he’s closer to 6’5.
Unconvinced? Let’s see him next to 6’5 Josh Hart.
Another one beside 6’3 McCollum. And this one is a little bit older, it may have been shooting over the past few months. He’s also got an extra inch over McCollum when it comes to wingspan.
Athletically speaking, Ant and CJ are in very different ball parks. McCollum rarely prepares to dunk, and Simmons is the slam dunk champion, helped by a vertical jump of 41.5 inches—McCollum was 38.5 inches.
Simmons has the physical attributes to be a decent defender. At 23 years old, he has at least a year or two of playing minutes at the junior level to get there.
I’ll just point out something that caught my eye during last week’s win over the Detroit Pistons. While the Pistons are far from an offensive powerhouse, there was one defensive game where Simmons stayed with 6’7, 226-pound veteran Bojan Bogdanovic from reaching the rim, changing his shot. Simmons, of course, has to do it on a regular basis, but the ability is there.
Yes, Simmons is clearly not a very good defender at the moment. But he showed glimpses of ability and height that McCollum never could. He was 23 – a year older than McCollum when he entered the league, but a year younger From McCollum when he started playing minutes at junior level in 2015-16.
Obviously, we’re dealing with a man in his tenth year versus a man in his five, so it’s not an exact science, but…
Simmons is not McCollum’s ball stopper. I don’t begrudge McCollum this one; I worked for a long time. But during his tenure in Portland, the ball rarely left CJ’s hands unless he was shooting. Simmons is a voluntary transient. If you don’t believe me, hear it from Lillard himself on Media Day.
With me and CJ we can score a lot of points, CJ, he would have the ball, he’s good on the ball, you knew you could count on CJ to get 20-25.
I think he (Simmons) was so young and he watched every game for his first two years in the league, I think he adopted that mentality as an NBA player. He’s really that kind of person who’s selfless, sees the game the right way and I think because of who he is, because of him being loose and developing as a teammate, it’s going to be like the two of us there basically. He can hit the spots, he can score really well, but Ant will do the right play and if he starts, he will start, but I know he’s going to have the same kind of mentality that I have. Let me be on the ball sometimes, and him on the ball sometimes, but it won’t seem like my period, it’s my period. It’s going to be more movement, more action, and it’s going to be more overshoot so I think that’s going to be the difference.”
This may also have been a factor in the team’s high turnover rate during the early part of this season. But if they can fix these kinks, the team will look significantly better.
Even though McCollum shares the field with Zion Williamson, and for lesser periods, Brandon Ingram, he still gets 18 shots a game – just like Simmons. However, the junior guard scores 22.2 points over McCollum’s 20.0.
Simmons shoots more than three. Through 36 games, the 23-year-old has earned 44 percent, or 8.0 tries, from two attempts, hitting 51 percent of them. From outside the arc, he’s attempted 56 percent or 10.1 shots, which is impressive, considering he’s still made 38 percent of them, despite experiencing some relatively normal nights so far.
For McCollum this season, the majority of shots have come from inside the arc on 60 percent or 10.7 attempts, with a drop of 44 percent. From long range, from 40 percent, or 7.2 tries, McCollum scored 39 percent.
But despite McCollum’s tendency to use two putts, Simmons still got closer to the edge, taking 3.0 putts from three feet, compared to McCollum’s 2.5.
Simons’ more varied athletic bag of tricks also poses more sophisticated questions on opposing defenses, and with these superior physical gifts he can slash his way and twist his body into a wide range of positions, especially as he ramps up his attempts on the edge.
Simmons and Layard need time
Like my first point, fans need to slow down and not expect instant gratification. The recent losses have been very disappointing, but I’m not too worried about this team, this season.
If they make the playoffs, great. But I would much prefer the Blazers to use the assets they have now to build and maintain resilience in hopes of building a team that actually has a chance at the playoffs.
Simons and Lillard have started fewer than 30 games together. And while some of you might say, “So what, they’ve been teammates for over four years,” I’d say this team looks decently different from previous seasons. The starting backcourt must be given the same time to engage as the previous one.
Yes, Lillard is 32 years old, but the team has already been more conservative with his workload, and kept physical. Dame plays a career-low 35.4 minutes a game. He suffered two minor calf injuries, which kept him out for dozens of games, and the team reportedly sat him out a bit longer than he had previously.
why? Because the guy is making $63 million four years from now and they want him to stay on the court, so he and Simmons can get the most out of each other for as long as possible.
I’ll repeat the above, Simmons is 23, and he was a year younger than McCollum when he was pushed into a starting role alongside Lillard. The couple needs time to acclimate and work to each other’s rhythms. If the problems persist 12 months from now, we can start to worry.
That team moved CJ McCollum and Norman Powell to make room for Anfernee Simons. Why, why, might three months move him into his first season as a starter, with all the potential he brings to the table?
Jusuf Nurkic, 28, has been in Portland for six years, and while there have been many highs, there have also been many disappointments. Simmons is just scratching the surface of both his basketball and sports gifts. But he also needs time with Lillard, he needs time for Cronin to improve this roster and he needs time to continue proving that he’s not just another CJ McCollum.