Simons, Grant Emerging as Serious All-Star Candidates


The Portland Trail Blazers started this season red-hot.

In their first 14 games, they went 10-4 and were the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. Many thought it was a new era in Blazers basketball, spearheaded by a new big three in Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons and Jerami Grant. In the following 10 games, the Blazers’ record plummeted to 13-11, with them losing seven of those 10.

Much of that record had to do with a lot of the team dealing with injury, including Dame. However, his two co-stars have stepped up significantly to prevent the team from completely falling off. During this stretch, Simons and Grant combined to form a potent offense, enough to carry the team to victories almost single-handedly.

Regardless of their record, these two are proving that they have it in them to be a part of a big three, and are undoubtedly making their cases to become all-stars this year.

Grant’s Great Escape

Jerami Grant was the big splash acquisition of the Blazers’ offseason. The Blazers traded the Bucks’ 2025 first-round pick acquired in the CJ McCollum trade, which looked like a steal at the time. What no one could’ve predicted was how much of a bargain it would be.

In his last season with the Pistons, Grant averaged 19.2 points and 4.1 rebounds to go along with 42/35/83 shooting splits. A decent year to be sure, but not quite what you’d want from your top option. It seemed as though he had too much responsibility in the offense, whereas in Denver he didn’t have quite enough of a role. Here in Portland, Grant seems to have found his perfect fit. The 6’8″ forward is averaging a career-high 22.4 points and amazing shooting splits of 48/45/79.

One of the biggest contributing factors to his success has been his three-point shot. Grant has consistently been one of the best volume three-point shooters this season, having the third-highest 3P% of any player with at least five attempts per game. By stretching the floor, Grant has proven himself to be very dangerous this year, and there isn’t really anything anyone can do to stop him.

With such a big frame and a high catch point, Grant has refined his shot into being almost unguardable, with defenses having to pray he misses.

Grant has also been a spot-up king. Among players with at least five spot-up possessions a game, Grant ranks second in points-per-possession and is in the 76th percentile of spot-up shooters overall. The spacing and release valve he provides at the end of possessions have been crucial to keeping the team afloat this year, especially with a lack of shooting from the team’s other wings.

All of these factors were on display against the Knicks on Nov. 25, where Grant scored a career-high 44 points with a franchise-record 28 free-throw attempts. During that game, Grant showed off everything in his bag. From step-backs, hesitations, crossovers, dunks, layups— you name it, he made it.

During the seven-game stretch where Dame was out, Grant averaged an astonishing 29 points and three assists on 47/45/77 shooting. The fact that they were able to turn to him into a consistent offensive option along with being their point of attack on defense was one of the few saving graces during that stretch. He was one of the main reasons why they were even competitive in any of those games and manifested that he deserves to be in the all-star conversation.

Simons Continues to Earn His Check

The emergence of Anfernee Simons has been upon us since he was named a starter after Dame had surgery last year. The then 22-year-old averaged a blistering 23.4 points and 5.8 assists while knocking down an elite 42% of his threes as a starter after Dame went down. Following that display of elite offense, Ant was rewarded with a four-year, $100 million contract, the 33rd-most guaranteed money in the league.

With that new contract and new role on the team, Ant has higher expectations than ever. And boy has he delivered. Simons is showing out this season, averaging a career-high 23.7 points, 4.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game while being one of three players (along with Steph Curry, and Dame) to make four threes per game.

When you watch Ant play, you can tell how much of his game he’s modeled after Dame and, to some extent, CJ McCollum. He rises up from his base, just like Dame, with every one of his threes with the consistency that all great shooters have. When he launches one up, it looks like it’s good every time.

He also has a very similar shot diet as Dame, with a lot of his points coming in the pick-and-roll and from dribble handoffs. In those situations, Simons is in the 83rd and 93rd percentiles, respectively, in PPP. The evidence for Ant’s ascension to the elite tier of shotmaking is all here, but the context in which it has unfolded makes it even more astonishing.

Simons has dragged himself up into this elite company from a relatively poor start to the season. Over his first 10 games, Simons was shooting a less-than-ideal 41% from the field with 35% from three on high volume. It was looking like he was having a hard time adjusting to being Damian Lillard‘s backcourt mate, and was taking a back seat to Grant as a scoring option.

Since then, with Dame sidelined and the team needing scoring, Simons has shaken the cobwebs off and averaged an elite 24.3 points and 4.8 assists on 44/40/88 splits. Seeing the change in him, going from underdog to alpha dog, has been a breath of fresh air for this franchise.

Ants had two major exclamation mark games in this surge, starting with the Knicks game where Jerami Grant went off. Ant scored 38 points and totaled four assists with only one turnover. Simons had his way from within the arc, with nine shots coming in the paint or from mid-range. They needed all of those buckets too, with the game going to overtime and the Blazers having to fight to claw out the win.

The major crescendo of the season thus far for Ant was his eruption against the Utah Jazz on Dec. 3. Right from the opening tip, Ant was on a heater. He started 4/5 from the field for 23 points and continued on to have a franchise record-setting 33 points in the first half.

He ended the game with a career-high 45 points and shot a whopping 60% from the field and 7/12 from three. This performance capped off the Dame-less stretch of games where he averaged an insane 29.3 points, 5.4 assists and 4.7 threes per game on 47/42/93 shooting, and made headlines around the NBA.

The Big Picture

The main thing to take away from both players’ performances is just how needed they’ve been for the Blazers this season. The team has had 11 of their 28 games be decided by five points are less, with six of those ending up in the win column. If not for Simons and Grant, the Blazers might be looking at the playoffs from the outside in.

It’s clear to see that both of these guys have solidified their status as a tier above the rest. With both of them averaging over 20 points per game on the season, they’re on pace to give the Blazers their first 20-PPG trio in team history. It’s needless to say that it also puts them in serious conversation for earning their first all-star appearances this year. If they keep up this level of play until February, it would be difficult to imagine a scenario where neither of them makes it.

More importantly, as this is the first year in a retool around Dame, it serves the team well to see that their two biggest investments are paying dividends. By the end of the season, it’s plausible that these two will have solidified their places in the Blazers’ future.

Jerami Grant and Anfernee Simons' point totals from their Nov. 25 game against the New York Knicks

About Badi Cross

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