The Portland Trail Blazers ran into a Minnesota Timberwolves team who is starting to get things figured out after trading away a disgruntled Jimmy Butler for Robert Covington and Dario Saric from Philly.
With the Timberwolves taking down the Blazers 114-96 on Friday night, Minnesota has now won three straight since the trade.
It was a different looking Blazers' rotation in Minnesota for Portland with backup guard Seth Curry (right knee) out after suffering a knee injury in the Blazers loss to the Lakers on Thursday night.
Enter rookie Anfernee Simons.
With Curry out, the Blazers rookie gave everyone a glimpse of what the future may look like with an aggressive Simons.
Blazers head coach Terry Stotts went with the rookie over Wade Baldwin or anyone else on the bench because Simons has proved to his coach, he deserves to be out there when opportunity comes.
“I thought he was the best option. You know, I thought he’s played well. I like the idea that he runs, he shoots. I think he earned the spot. I thought he was a good compliment to Nik and Evan,” Stotts said.
Simons entered the game at the start of the second quarter for Al-Farouq Aminu and he made his presence known early. After missing his first two shots, Simons didn't shut down, but instead, went on the attack and made a driving layup.
“I just try to be aggressive. They obviously appreciate me being aggressive. So I wanted to come in there and obviously try and not do too much, but you know, once the opportunity is there you take the shot and just live with the results,” Simons said.
Simons finished with seven points after going 3-of-7 from the field. This was his first shot at non-garbage time minutes. He played eight minutes in the first half and ended the game with 13 minutes of action.
“Since coach has been talking to me the past couple of days or something, I just stayed ready and make sure I knew all the plays. I think I did pretty well. Frist time coming in there, actually getting, playing in the mix of it. I think I played pretty well, played good defense,” Simons said.
But changing up the Blazers rotation can throw a wrench in things. Coach Stotts decided to play Damian Lillard longer minutes in the second half instead of going back to Simons. Lillard played 37 minutes and scored 16 points. It was CJ McCollum who led the way in scoring with 18 points.
“Not having Seth kind of changed the rotation a little bit. I thought Anfernee did a nice job in the first half, but I think the dye was kind of cast in the first quarter, it was just the offensive rebounds and the turnovers that kind of set the tone,” Stotts said.
But there’s no arguing that this is a playmaking 6’4 wing who showed on Friday night he has no fear and he’s teammates recognize just that.
“I thought he went out there, he was aggressive, he was fearless, he knew what was going on so I thought he did a great job,” Lillard said.
For Simons, he made sure to hammer home the fact that he is staying ready at all times.
“Knowing the personnel and making sure you gotta be ready at all times. Even though you might not be playing, you got know everybody’s tendencies, each play and each points just to try and help the team win in someway even when you’re on the bench,” Simons said.
And his teammates are always making sure he knows that, even though he’s a rookie, he has the green light.
“They tell me all the time-- be aggressive. They see in practice that I’m able to score the ball well and I try to show that each time I’m out on the court,” Simons said.
When you don’t know when you’ll see the floor next, it’s all about the preparation leading up to your opportunity and Lillard has come to realize that his 19-year-old teammate is committed to being ready.
“Some nights when I got back to shoot after practice and I go back at eight o’clock, seven, eight o’clock sometimes and he’ll be there shooting, so, you know that he’s preparing himself for moments like tonight where he gets thrown out there when the game really matters instead of either we getting blown out or blowing somebody out and he’s getting the last three minutes,” Lillard said.
There’s no timetable yet on Curry’s return. He did say he hopes to be back by the end of the road trip, but there’s one thing everyone knows now if they didn’t already, the kid from IMG Academy is waiting in the wings if Coach Stotts calls his name.
And everyone is Rip City realizes that having Lillard to look up to and learn from, not to mention having Lillard be confident in you, makes getting out and being aggressive in meaningful minutes that much easier for a rookie.