September 19, 2018, 4:44 pm
Leading up to the Portland Trail Blazers’ season-opener against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers at Moda Center on October 18, HoopBall is profiling the team’s 15 players with guaranteed contracts, in reverse order of price.
Player: Anfernee Simons
2018-19 salary: $1,835,520
Age, experience: 19, rookie
Measureables: 6-foot-4, 183 pounds (6-foot-9 and 3/4 inch wingspan)
Strengths: explosiveness, first step, length, long-range shooting, ball handling
Weaknesses: strength, experience, court vision
Swing factor: 3-point shooting
Likely role: G-League
Neil Olshey’s hands were mostly tied this summer. Despite a public-relations blitz about adding an experienced wing in wake of his team getting swept out of the playoffs, the Portland Trail Blazers’ general manager never had the means to acquire a player of that caliber. But such hollow talk didn’t mean Portland had to punt on the notion of acquiring a potential rotation player; several intriguing options of the 3-and-D variety were poised to be available with the Blazers first-round pick.
If Anfernee Simons underwhelms, both as a rookie and going forward, there’s a chance the frustrating subtext of his selection is a contributing factor. After weeks of being promised by management that their team was finally finished rebuilding, ready to focus fully on the present, Portland fans weren’t thrilled with bringing in an anonymous high-schooler who plays the same position as Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Any criticism directed at Simons was less about the chance the teenager makes good on his obvious wealth of talent; it stemmed from the chance he does so while this team’s core is still in its prime, and how Terry Stotts would dole out minutes if that hope eventually comes to pass.
There’s no disputing that prospects of Simons’ raw potential normally can’t be had with the 24th pick in the draft. At 6-foot-4 with a wingspan nearly six inches longer, he’s physically comparable to San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray, an All-Defensive Second Team pick last season at 22. But the skill limitations that hold Murray back aren’t encumbering Simons. He shot 34.6 percent from three on a team-high 4.3 attempts per game in Summer League, especially encouraging numbers considering the comfort he exhibited catching and shooting a couple feet behind the line and pulling up off the dribble. There’s no reason to believe long-range shooting won’t be a strength of Simons’ game in time, combining with his natural ball-handling verve and lightning first step to make him an imminently dangerous scoring weapon both on and off the ball.
What’s less certain is whether he’ll ever develop the playmaking chops to be a primary creator. Don’t mistake that relative lack of optimism with any concerns about the feel Simons showed in Las Vegas, though. He was a reliable ball mover for the summer Blazers, and displayed keen understanding of time and space creating his own offense out of the pick and roll. But when spelling Wade Baldwin as Portland’s point guard, Simons was far more game manager than impactful playmaker for others – not a surprise given his complete lack of experience playing against professionals and pre-draft label as a combo guard.
In a perfect world, Simons would realize his destiny as a high-octane scorer with the physical tools necessary to check multiple positions sooner rather than later, pushing the Blazers closer and closer toward making a choice on their future with Lillard and McCollum manning the backcourt. His Summer League performance, understated as it may have seemed to some, only furthered the optimism Simons will eventually develop into that type of draft-night steal. But he surely won’t justify it this season, as a 19 year old playing behind Lillard, McCollum, Seth Curry and Baldwin, Portland’s designated defensive stopper, and as a result is unlikely to become a regular contributor until 2019-20 at the absolute earliest.
Where will the Blazers be then? Without an offseason that addressed this team’s need for greater lineup flexibility, it’s fair to assume Portland will befall the same fate next spring it did against the New Orleans Pelicans in April. An even worse but almost as realistic an outcome would be Stotts’ team, fighting with seven or eight others for positioning below Western Conference juggernauts, missing the playoffs altogether. Major changes would be inevitable at that point, thrusting Simons into the spotlight as a potential trade chip or foundational piece for a team suddenly forced into rebuilding.
But that’s a situation to ponder for later. Simons will be an afterthought for the most part this season, likely proving his chops in the G-League and flashing his talents in garbage time, serving as an embodiment of the Blazers’ tenuous place between staying the course and starting anew.
February 25, 2020, 1:31 amLou WilliamsSG, Los Angeles Clippers
Lou Williams cooled off in Monday's win over the Grizzlies, quietly chipping in eight points on 3-of-7 shooting with four rebounds, two 3s and six assists in 22 minutes.
Williams' subpar numbers are no cause for concern as the blowout nature of the game played a role in it. Expect him to bounce back with another big game soon.
February 25, 2020, 1:28 amMontrezl HarrellPF, Los Angeles Clippers
Montrezl Harrell was fantastic off the bench for the Clippers in their 124-97 win over the Grizzlies on Monday, posting 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field and 4-of-5 shooting from the line.
Trez also chipped in three rebounds and two blocks. His improved free throw shooting (.750) over the last week has allowed him to crack top-30 value. As long as it holds, Harrell should be able to coast to a strong finish to 2019-20.
February 25, 2020, 1:24 amPatrick BeverleyPG, Los Angeles Clippers
Patrick Beverley (sore right groin) resumed his starting role in his return to action on Monday with six points (2-of-3 from deep), three rebounds, two assists and one steal.
Beverley saw 19 minutes in his return, less than any other guard on the Clippers roster tonight. Beverley's a lockdown defender and that's his path to minutes and usage going forward. He should post better lines as he gets his legs back.
February 25, 2020, 1:17 amPaul GeorgeSF, Los Angeles Clippers
Paul George (left hamstring strain) returned to action on Monday but was limited to seven point on 3-of-11 shooting with four rebounds, four assists, one trey and one block in 21 minutes.
The Clippers won this game with ease, so there was no need to put a heavy burden on him. The 3-of-11 shooting was a downer, but PG13 should be able to ramp up his production as he works his way back to being 100 percent.
February 25, 2020, 1:13 amJosh JacksonSF, Memphis Grizzlies
Josh Jackson started the second half of Monday's game for an injured Brandon Clarke and put up a mixed bag, going 4-for-12 from the field for 14 points, two 3s, five rebounds, one assist and two blocks in 26 minutes.
Jackson, who is coming off a season-high 20 points on Friday, could be in line for a starting role if Clarke misses time. He's struggled with shooting efficiency during his time with the Suns, so there's a bit of a caveat to our reco to grab him in 14-teamers or deeper.
February 25, 2020, 1:06 amGorgui DiengC, Memphis Grizzlies
Gorgui Dieng was great on Monday, chipping in 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting with 10 rebounds, two 3s, one steal and four blocks in a loss to the Clippers.
Dieng got some extra burn with Jaren Jackson J.r sidelined for two weeks. But with Brandon Clarke also going down in this one, there was little choice but for Dieng to be unleashed for 28 minutes. He's worth grabbing in every league and every format.
February 25, 2020, 1:02 amJonas ValanciunasC, Memphis Grizzlies
Jonas Valanciunas was terrible in Monday's loss to the Clippers, uncharacteristically going 2-for-10 from the field to end the night with five points, seven rebounds and two assists.
This was Valanciunas' worst outings season-to-date. There was an expectation he'd step up in the absence of Jaren Jackson Jr., but he wound up delivering the opposite of an encouraging outcome. As a top-50 play for most of the season, Valanciunas has earned a bit of leash and patience, for sure.
February 25, 2020, 12:49 amBojan BogdanovicSF, Utah Jazz
Bojan Bogdanovic did not hit a trey in his 4-of-10 makes from the field on Monday, but cooked at the line with a perfect 8-for-8 clip for 16 points, two assists, three rebounds and two steals.
The last time Bogie failed to hit a three was way back on February 3rd. His solid free-throw shooting and two steals helped soften the blow. No need to worry as those triples will come splashing down once again in no time.
February 25, 2020, 12:48 amJames HardenPG, Houston Rockets
James Harden led the Rockets to a 123-112 win over the Knicks on Monday with a game-high 37 points on 14-of-25 shooting with six rebounds, nine assists, two steals and four 3-pointers in 34 minutes.
Harden did only make 5-of-9 free throws, which is completely out of character. And while his six turnovers also hurt, none of this is stopping Harden from being the top fantasy player for the season. Not even a month-long slump. It may not be pretty, but The Beard knows how to dominate.
February 25, 2020, 12:44 amMike ConleyPG, Utah Jazz
Mike Conley had a forgettable outing on Monday, recording ust eight points (4-of-6 shooting) and one assist in 22 minutes.
Yuck. Just when you thought Conley was back and ready to roll after a 13-point game on Saturday, he disappoints big time with this dud. The opportunities for production are still there, so he's worth trusting over your average, garden-variety FA pickup.