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Anfernee Simons breakout season would be much-needed boost for Blazers without McCollum, Nurkic

Over the past two games, he’s averaged 21 points per game while making 61% of his shots, including connecting on 62% of his 3-point attempts.
Credit: AP
Portland Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons dribbles against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)

PORTLAND, Ore. — With guard CJ McCollum and center Jusuf Nurkic expected to be out for at least the next month, the Portland Trail Blazers need their bench players to step up and fill the significant voids. Over the team’s past two games, a win against the New York Knicks and a loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland’s two third-year guards have flourished in their new roles.

Gary Trent Jr., who broke out last season as a regular contributor for the Blazers, has put together his best two-game stretch of the season. For the first time this season, Trent Jr. has scored at least 10 points in consecutive games, 11 against the Knicks and 22 against the Thunder. He also shot better than 40% on 3-pointers in both games. It’s the type of performance the Blazers desperately need from Trent Jr. on a consistent basis moving forward.

But the player who has stood out the most over the past two games has been backup point guard Anfernee Simons, whose play was the biggest topic of conversation on this week’s 3-on-3 Blazers podcast. The weekly podcast is hosted by KGW sports anchor Orlando Sanchez, alongside KGW's Jared Cowley, Nate Hanson and Max Barr. (Story continues below)

LISTEN: KGW's 3-on-3 Blazers Podcast

Simons was the team's first-round pick in 2018 and has been touted by general manager Neil Olshey as the most talented player he’s ever drafted. That’s high acclaim considering Olshey drafted McCollum and Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard as well as Blake Griffin when he was with the Clippers. And while teammates have praised Simons’ shot-making during practices, Blazers fans have yet to see it consistently through the first two-plus seasons of his career.

But now fans are starting to see a glimpse of Simons’ offensive skillset. Over the past two games, he’s averaged 21 points per game while making 61% of his shots, including connecting on 62% of his 3-point attempts.

Here’s a breakdown of how Simons has performed over the past two games, compared to his first 11 games of the season:

Minutes per game:

  • First 11 games: 10.5 minutes per game
  • Last 2 games: 26.3 minutes per game

Points per game:

  • First 11 games: 4.2 points per game
  • Last 2 games: 21 points per game

Shooting percentage:

  • First 11 games: 30% shooting overall, 32% shooting on 3-pointers
  • Last 2 games: 61% shooting overall, 62% shooting on 3-pointers

Shot selection:

  • First 11 games: 4 shots per game, including three 3-point field goal attempts
  • Last 2 games: 13 shots per game, including eight 3-point field goal attempts

The question for the Blazers organization and fans is can Simons keep it up?

Obviously, it’s unfair to expect he’ll continue to make 60% of his shots and average 21 points per game. But can Simons be a 35-40% 3-point shooter and average 12-15 points a game while CJ McCollum is out? That’s certainly a fair expectation. And if Simons can provide that replacement-level player production, especially during the minutes Damian Lillard is on the bench, it will be a big boost to Portland’s chances of staying in the playoff hunt until McCollum and Nurkic can return.

The Blazers begin a six-game road trip Thursday night against the Houston Rockets.

CHIME IN! If you have a question about the Blazers that you'd like us to answer on the next podcast, email us at 3on3blazers@gmail.com or tweet your questions to Orlando SanchezNate HansonJared Cowley or Max Barr.

LISTEN: KGW's 3-on-3 Blazers Podcast