How do we curb our expectations for Anfernee Simons?

How do we curb our expectations for Anfernee Simons?

Seth Curry had a good enough season last year for the Portland Trail Blazers that he garnered a huge, 4-year contract with the Dallas Mavericks worth $32 million. With Curry now in Texas, second year Blazers guard Anfernee Simons is set to step up in a big way as the backup for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Sights are set high for Simons, who has drawn attention from around the league. General Manager Neil Olshey has said of Simons that, “He's as talented as anyone we've ever drafted since I've been here.”

But set aside all the hype around Simons for a minute: the truth is that Portland needs him to perform.

Last season for the Blazers, Simons was a lengthy and interesting athletic scorer who was at the heart of one of the most memorable regular season feats in recent memory. In the last game of the year against the Sacramento Kings, Simons exploded for 37 points in a win that propelled the Blazers into a playoff bracket that did not include the Golden State Warriors. Although Terry Stotts and his staff appeared to be trying to lose the game, Simons’ outburst was arguably what aligned Portland’s run to the Western Conference Finals in 2019.

All that aside, Simons did show some offensive bursts during his 12 games of play last year. He shot 43% of his field goal attempts from beyond the 3-point line, with an effective field goal percentage of 59%. Simons didn't attack the rim with much tenacity — he went to the bucket just 22% of the time — but when he did, he was absolutely lights out at 86%.

For us in the external viewing world, much of this can be taken with a humongous, Big Pink-sized lump of salt. The sample size, as they say, is extremely small for Simons in the NBA. There's not much to suggest that he is ready to take on roll occupied by Curry based off of his NBA performances.

There's also something to be said about what Simons lacks. As a 20-year-old, he’s still getting a feel for the game. It will take him some time to get up to speed on defense, although as a backup player that will be less relied upon in 2019-20. Simons has not yet filled out, and his defensive box plus-minus from last year left something to be desired — specifically given that he played against third-string players. But there are some positives when it comes to Simons’ defense, too. His foul rate isn't particularly egregious, and his ridiculous wingspan should allow for him to grow into a defensive presence in the future.

As a team, Portland is going to be much different defensively this year. Gone are both Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu, two of the Blazers’ most important defenders. In their place will be Rodney Hood, Kent Bazemore, and Zach Collins. That's before we even get to the Jusuf Nurkic-for-Hassan Whiteside swap, which has all kinds of connotations both statistically and from an on-off perspective.

If you were planning on the Blazers being a worse defensive team this season, that's probably the right call. Forget the fact that Portland lost some of its most important defenders — they just have too many new faces to be a top-notch defensive team right away. And while defense could mean a serious change in where the Blazers land in the playoff race this season, it's unlikely that Simons would have made an impact there one way or another.

Simon said this summer that the game has started to slow down for him, and that he's trying to work on both pace and making sure he's acting as a point guard and not just as a scoring ball-handler. Stotts has to also make sure that Simons is looking at his return on the defensive end. These are all good signs for 2019-20.

Portland fans are riding high after that Western Conference Finals run last season, and the team has publicly stated that their goal is to return back to that level or higher. Fans around town seem hopeful that they can reproduce the same kind of magic, particularly once Nurkic returns from injury. The height to clear that bar might be untenable, and for Simons that could spell trouble.

The Blazers have typically stocked a useful veteran ball handler behind Lillard and McCollum, but this season will be all on Simons. Fans should expect to see a lot of him... and a lot of mistakes. As a young guard in the NBA, his biggest deficiency will be in passing choice when it comes to turnovers and defensive lapses as it relates to guarding increasingly better players.

But Simons is a thoughtful kid, and the team culture here in Portland should produce some positives, too. In particular, I think we'll see less of the singularly-minded, attacking Simons that we seen in the past. Instead, I expect him to be a director of men out on the floor, and an ample 3-point shooting threat as a release valve.

For now, this is the best roster that Olshey could put together. Aminu and Harkless are gone, and in many ways this is the team that many have been clamoring for. It’s time to fish or cut bait, and Olshey decided to cut bait. Now a vocal chorus will get their wish, to see the young Simons in a featured role. It could be a bumpy ride, not just for Simons but for the team. The odds have been stacked against Blazers guards before, and the only way to see what you’ve got is to play the minutes.

Simons will get plenty of those this year.

Haberstroh: 3rd time the charm? Thoughts on Carmelo Anthony to Portland

Haberstroh: 3rd time the charm? Thoughts on Carmelo Anthony to Portland

For Carmelo Anthony’s last two stops in the Western Conference, the idea of Melo was more appealing than actual Melo. Now, Portland takes a chance.

Maybe third time’s the charm?

Interestingly enough, Portland provides a similar opportunity as his stints in OKC and Houston: come in and embrace the third-wheel role. OKC had Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Houston had James Harden and Chris Paul. Portland has Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

The difference is that Melo hasn’t played in a year and doesn’t have the defensive safety nets of Steven Adams and Clint Capela. The Blazers traded Moe Harkless and Meyers Leonard this off-season because they thought Hassan Whiteside could be that guy, but they rank 19th in defense, compared to 14th in offense. They need stoppers. Anthony is not that guy. Especially not after a year on the sidelines.

Best case scenario, Anthony comes off the bench and provides instant offense like Seth Curry did last season.

Worst case scenario, it doesn’t work, they move on. Houston did just that and got to the Western Conference semifinals.

Portland wants an offensive spark, but they need defenders. As long as Melo isn’t portrayed as the savior, he can help. But we said the same thing about OKC and Houston.

Read More on the Melo signing:

Trail Blazers to sign 'Melo' -- and let me tell you why it's a good idea

Social media reacts to the report of Blazers signing Carmelo Anthony

Throwback: Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum supported Carmelo to Portland in the Summer of 2017

Trail Blazers to sign 'Melo' -- and let me tell you why it's a good idea

Trail Blazers to sign 'Melo' -- and let me tell you why it's a good idea

Look at it this way, Trail Blazer fans – what does your team have to lose by signing Carmelo Anthony to a non-guaranteed contract?

More games? Well, if Portland doesn’t solve its power-forward problems, that’s going to happen, anyway.

And spare me the hand-wringing about Anthony’s defense. There wasn’t going to be some sort of miracle move that was going to transform this team into a rabid pack of guard dogs at the defensive end of the floor.

The Trail Blazers plan to sign Anthony – it hasn’t happened yet because there are logistics, including a physical, that need to be taken care of before he can actually sign – to that non-guaranteed contract. That means if something good doesn’t happen, he can be sent down the road with no great financial loss.

Think of him as a "rent-to-own."

But let’s keep it real about the Trail Blazers right now: the loss of Zach Collins has left a gaping hole at the power forward spot. And at the same time, Portland is struggling to score. Frankly, there is little chance before the return of Jusuf Nurkic that this team is going to somehow figure out a way to consistently hold a team to fewer points than it is scoring. So why not try Carmelo Anthony? Why not try to put enough points on the board that the defense doesn't have to be so tight?

Half the league is playing that way in this era.

And really, I have no idea how well he can do as an offensive player after getting into just 10 games last season. But I know this – opponents are loading up against Damian Lillard more frequently and he needs help. Lillard has always been a big proponent of signing Anthony and famously tried to recruit him to Portland when he was a free agent. And the 10-time all-star will be able to play with composure in clutch situations and attack mismatches when they present themselves late in games.

Anthony has always been popular with his teammates and will bring a presence to the locker room that might need a little shaking up.

It might not have made any sense to bring him in earlier, when it was believed the team was deep on its frontline. You wouldn’t want to bring him in just to have him sit on the bench. But now? If he has anything left, he’s probably going to get as many minutes as his 35-year-old body can handle. This is a player who has averaged 24 points per game during his career.

And when Dame is getting blitzed on pick-and-rolls or being hounded by a box-and-one defense, I have a feeling Carmelo Anthony will at least be a credible option that teams need to worry about late in games.

If not… at least the franchise made an effort. And wasn’t afraid to take the gamble.

Throwback: Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum supported Carmelo to Portland in the Summer of 2017

Throwback: Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum supported Carmelo to Portland in the Summer of 2017

The NBA world has been waiting on pins and needles for months waiting to see if future Hall of Famer Carmelo Anthony would land on an NBA roster this season. On Thursday, we got our answer, and it landed right in our backyard.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Portland Trail Blazers have agreed to a non-guaranteed deal with Anthony. 

Carmelo Anthony has long been linked to the Blazers. Portland's star duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have both been very vocal about their support and recruitment of Melo in the past. In fact, Lillard talked about the prospect of adding Melo two summers ago at his annual basketball camp. 

McCollum happened to be making a guest appearance at Lillard's camp that same day, and he too gave the media his thoughts on the prospects of adding Anthony. 

We all know what happened that summer - he was traded by the Knicks, not to the Blazers, but to the Oklahoma City Thunder. He then hit the open market in the summer of 2018, where he once again rejected the Blazers and signed with the Rockets. As recently as two months ago, Lillard said that he felt after multiple failed recruitments that Anthony was never coming to Portland. Wonder if he saw this one coming. 

Stayed tuned to NBC Sports Northwest for all the latest Anthony news as it develops. 

Social media reacts to the report of Blazers signing Carmelo Anthony

Social media reacts to the report of Blazers signing Carmelo Anthony

The Blazers have been experimenting at power forward since losing Zach Collins to shoulder surgery.

Thursday evening, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Trail Blazers are set to sign Carmelo Anthony. The contract is non-guaranteed.

According to Yahoo Sports reporter Chris Haynes, Damian Lillard was informed of the potential signing on Wednesday night after the Blazers lost to the Raptors.

Trail Blazers forward Mario Hezonja has already expressed his excitement.

Other NBA players, past and present, are weighing in, too:

Here is what Rip City is saying:

Anthony last played for the Houston Rockets and averaged 13.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 0.5 apg in 10 games in '18-'19.

The video above is from media day 2017 following a summer of rumors around Melo to Portland. 

NBA Rumor: Trail Blazers set to sign Carmelo Anthony

NBA Rumor: Trail Blazers set to sign Carmelo Anthony

Breaking news for the Portland Trail Blazers. According to Woj, the team is set to sign free agent Carmelo Anthony to a non-guaranteed deal. 

The Blazers have been riddled with injuries to start the season and are especially thin at the four position, which Anthony could provided offensive support at. 

Anthony has long been a rumored target for the the team and garnered support publicly from both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in past off-seasons. 

Anthony last played for the Houston Rockets and averaged 13.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 0.5 apg in 10 games in '18-'19.

During his last lengthy stint in the league, Anthony averaged 16.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.3 apg during 78 games with the Thunder in '17-'18

Anthony will join the Blazers during their upcoming six-game road trip.

More on this story as it develops from Insider Dwight Jaynes and reporter Jamie Hudson.

The video above is from media day 2017 following a summer of rumors around Melo to Portland. 

Trail Blazers facing plenty of questions heading into long road trip

Trail Blazers facing plenty of questions heading into long road trip

The feeling inside the Trail Blazers locker room was some combination of frustration and resigned optimism.

After falling to the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night, and losing for the sixth time in seven games to drop to 4-8 on the year, the Blazers were believably frustrated. The optimism was mostly by default.

It’s still November, the marathon NBA season is just beginning and for all of Portland’s clear and obvious issues, players pointed to the 70 games remaining on the schedule as the biggest reason to be hopeful the team can find its footing.

“It’s a long season,” Hood said, uttering a refrain that his teammates would echo. “Nobody’s in the playoffs right now. I don’t care if they’re number one in the league or number one in the west, everybody is fighting and figuring out everything. Nobody has tailed off and took off from everybody else. By next month we could be up there at the top so we just got to continue to stay positive and get better.”

If the Blazers are going to make as dramatic a turn as Hood suggested and end up in the top of standings by December, most of that progress will come on the road. Wednesday’s game against the Raptors was a brief pit stop in Portland before the Blazers head out for an 11-day, six game trip, finally returning to Moda Center the day before Thanksgiving.

Even early in the season, this trip looks daunting because this team has obvious flaws.

The Blazers are still searching for answers at power forward after losing Zach Collins to shoulder surgery until at least mid-March. With a combination of injuries and poor play, Terry Stotts has mixed and matched groups to open games, trotting out his sixth different starting lineup of the season in Game No. 12 on Wednesday.

Stotts turned to Nassir Little against Toronto. The rookie played hard and mostly held his own. It was an encouraging performance even with Little going 3-for-10 from the floor in 23 minutes. Frankly, going with the high-energy rookie at that spot might be the Blazers best option as Anthony Tolliver has been ineffective at best and Mario Hezonja isn’t suited for a big minute role. 

Beyond who starts, the Blazers desperately need to figure out how to finish games. Other than a face plant at Golden State, the Blazers haven’t been rolled over in most of their losses. Instead their consistently dropping games in crunch time, out executed or outworked at winning time. The Blazers have a league-worst 122.8 defensive rating in the fourth quarter, and they are the second worst defensive rebounding team in the final frame.

“Sometimes it’s not just because we can’t get a stop. It’s we can’t get a rebound,” Damian Lillard said. “If you give up two and three opportunities to an NBA team you’re going to get scored on.”

The reasons for frustration inside the locker room are obvious. The injuries, the shifting rotation and repeated late game letdowns are already threatening to derail this season in its early stages. And yet most of the Blazers said they were optimistic or even encouraged.

“You gotta just keep going. You gotta keep fighting," Lillard said. "I think that we should be encouraged by the fact that we’ve lost a lot of games the same way. We’ve been in the mix. We’ve been right there down the stretch and we lose games down the stretch. I think that’s one thing we can’t forget. But like I said before, we can’t fold. We gotta just keep coming, continue to try to correct the mistakes and the things we already know how (to do) to win games."

The Morning After: Everything you missed from the Trail Blazers loss to the Raptors

The Morning After: Everything you missed from the Trail Blazers loss to the Raptors

The Trail Blazers rough start to the season hit another bump in the road when they welcomed the defending champion Toronto Raptors to town.

Things looked promising early, with the Blazers jumping out to the early double-digit lead. The starting lineup looked rejuvenated and the Moda Center crowd was electric, all thanks to Nassir Little. The promising rookie got his first career start and did not disappoint. His chase-down block in the first half looked to be a game-changer, but in the end, the Raptors were too much.

With both teams tied at 94 early in the fourth quarter, Toronto went on a 14-0 run that the Blazers never rebounded from.

Portland drops one to the Raptors, 114-106, and falls to 4-8 on the season

QUOTABLES:

Kent Bazemore on team’s struggles:

We just need to continue to play hard until we figure it out. As long as we keep providing the effort, things will turn… this is a winning team, and will be there when the time is right.

Rodney Hood on how it felt to get back on the court:

I’m pretty sore right now, but I felt good once I got going up and down a couple times throughout the game. It’s feeling better.

Coach Stotts on the first start for rookie Nassir Little:

I thought he had a really good game, I thought he held his own with (Pascal) Siakam defensively, brought a lot of energy, and played hard. So I was very pleased with the way he played.

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Nassir Little proud of his first start... but with no Zach Collins there's work to be done at the four

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USATI

Nassir Little proud of his first start... but with no Zach Collins there's work to be done at the four

With Zach Collins missing at least the next four months rehabbing from shoulder surgery, the Blazers have been trying to figure out the right rotation and starting lineups to fill the starting power forward void.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts has experimented at the four spot, staring both Anthony Tolliver and Mario Hezonja at power forward.

But on Wednesday night, Coach Stotts gave his rookie a shot. 

In Nassir Little’s first NBA career start, he saw a good majority of minutes guarding Pascal Siakam.

Not an easy task.

Little proved he could hang with the four-year power forward.

Even though Portland did not get the win on Wednesday night, Little said it wasn’t the result he wanted, but he was proud of his performance on Siakam.

Little even knew Siakam’s exact stats while he was defending the Raptors power forward.

“I think I did really well. When I came out of the game he only had 15 points and he finished with [36], so for a guy that’s on a max contract, for me to be a rookie in my first start, I think I did extremely well. He’s really good at reading the defense and he has a lot of counters, so whatever you bite on, he’s going to counter next so I think that’s what makes him really challenging,” Little said.

The Blazers youngster has been spending a lot of his time looking over the Blazers’ playbook lately to review the power forward’s duties, not small forward. 

“Before this I was learning all the stuff at the three and then with Zach Collins getting hurt, it’s a whole positional shift. So, now I’ve got to learn everything at the four. It’s a process, but you know, I’m working hard, I’m watching extra film,” Little said.

[RELATED]: Social Media Reacts to Nassir Little’s first career start

Coach Stotts was pleased with Little’s grit.
“I thought he had a really good game. I thought he held his own with Siakam defensively, brought a lot of energy, and played hard. So I was very pleased with the way he played,” Stotts said.

“Nassir is playing some good minutes at the 4, so that is encouraging,” Stotts added.  

Little finished with seven points, five rebounds, and one steal.

The Blazers rookie is quickly becoming a fan favorite for the way he hangs his hat on his defense and work ethic.

Another Portland player who does just that is Kent Bazemore.

Bazemore expressed how Little doesn’t even look like how a rookie used to look back in his day.  

“I think these rookies now aren’t really rookies, with their size… [Nassir] physically had everything he needed to contain [Siakam], and for him to be thrown in the fire like that and make the hustle plays, that’s how you stay on the floor. It’s good that he knows that at this age,” Bazemore said.    

CJ McCollum echoed those same sentiments.

“I thought he handled it well,” McCollum said of Little’s tough assignment on Siakam. “He works extremely hard, he’s aggressive. He’s athletic and it was a nice first-career start for him to go up against an All-Star caliber player in Siakam – a guy who is versatile, can do a little bit of everything, and I think he held his own.” 

Wednesday night marked Little’s first career start since his high school days.

The 19-year-old came off the bench at North Carolina during his one-and-done college career.

From the sounds of it in the locker room, this could be a Coach Stotts experiment that is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Social Media Reacts to Nassir Little’s first career start

Social Media Reacts to Nassir Little’s first career start

Early season injuries have forced Coach Stotts to try multiple starting lineups. With starting power forward Zach Collins out with a dislocated shoulder, Stotts has turned to both Anthony Tolliver and Mario Hezonja to start in his place. The results, however, have not been what he had hoped.

So, looking in infuse some more energy and a spark into the lineup, Stotts chose to give rookie Nassir Little the first start of his career against the Raptors:

Before the game even tipped off, the news of Little getting the start had Trail Blazers fans hyped:

The hype didn’t stop there. Once the game got rolling, the fans were electric anytime Little made a play.  A few nice shots, a monster block, and hustle all around. Little ended the night with seven points, a block, and a career-high five rebounds. Rip City was in love with Little and took to social media to tell about it.

Said Coach Stotts after the game, "I thought he had a really good game, I thought he held his own with (Pascal) Siakam defensively, brought a lot of energy, and played hard. So I was very pleased with the way he played."

So was Rip City. The question now is, will he get the start again when the Blazers take on the Spurs this Saturday?