Jim Moran

Why Jim Moran quickly had to back off from calling Anfernee Simons “Pre-K”

Why Jim Moran quickly had to back off from calling Anfernee Simons “Pre-K”

“Anfernee [Simons] always surprises me,” Portland Trail Blazers Assistant Coach Jim Moran told Jordan Kent and Michael Holton on this week’s edition of Trail Blazers Courtside.

Honestly, same.

The second-year player from IMG Academy is a former first-round (No. 24 overall) draft pick by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2018 NBA Draft. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound point guard was the third player drafted in the NBA from high school since 2015. 

This is Moran’s fifth season with the Portland Trail Blazers with a specialization in player development. Coach Moran spends lots of time working with the young guys, making sure they are staying mentally and physically prepared to play at their best when their name is called.

And according to Moran, he has been impressed with the strides Ant has take from year one to year two.

Being around him everyday and just seeing how much stronger he’s getting. When he first got here, I called him ‘Pre-K.’ I stopped very quickly because he started calling me ‘Retirement Home.’I kind of let that one go. He’s just getting a lot stronger; He’s gotten a lot smarter; He’s getting a better feel of the offense, not just at the point guard but at the two-guard position. -- Jim Moran

Simons saw action in 65 games this 2019-20 season before the COVID-19 pandemic suspended the NBA season indefinitely. During that time, he averaged 8.8 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game, and shot 40.2% from the field and 33.8% from three-point range.

“Pre-K” quickly graduated and skipped a few grades. And he had the right help to do so.

There's no doubt the Blazers' front office, as well as Rip City fans, have endless confidence that Simons is "the future." But there is also one other important piece to the puzzle when grading Simons.

Damian Lillard.

One thing I love being around Dame [Lillard] and CJ [McCollum], especially with Anfernee and Gary [Trent Jr.], is how much advice and pointers and the few games that Dame didn’t play, and as Ant is coming off the court, he’s pulling him over. It’s kinda cool being the guy sitting next to him [Dame] and be like ‘Wow that’s pretty impressive,’ not just the information he’s giving him but the leadership and how much he cares about this guy because he know’s he [Simons] can help us. — Jim Moran

The opportunity to be a 20-year-old kid in the league and absorb so much knowledge and wisdom from one of the best guard’s in the NBA is certainly something special. 

Be sure to check out the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Fry and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon along with special guest former Portland Trail Blazer Steve Blake.

How Gary Trent Jr. avoided the sophomore slump this season

How Gary Trent Jr. avoided the sophomore slump this season

It can be really challenging for a rookie entering the league to balance hard work and playing time. 

Going from college ball where you’re probably “the guy” on the team to likely sitting on the bench on an NBA floor or very few minutes of playing time late in the game. It can be tough from a mental as well as physical standpoint. 

This is where Portland Trail Blazers Assistant Coach Jim Moran steps in.

On this week’s edition of Trail Blazers Courtside, hosts Jordan Kent and Michael Holton welcome in special guest Jim Moran. Moran is in his fifth season with the Trail Blazers and focuses on player development. 

Who is the player that has improved the most and added to his bag in Moran’s eyes?

Gary Trent Jr.

We agree. 

The former second-round (No. 37 overall) draft pick in the 2018 NBA Draft was originally selected by the Sacramento Kings but subsequently traded to the Blazers.

And while the Trail Blazers were haunted by the injury bug this 2019-2020 season, Trent Jr.’s patience and hard work was on full display in front of the NBA world in just his second season in the league.

He’s shown he can get into the game and make shots. His defense has been unbelievable. I don’t think we talk enough about how much of a buy in he gave for his defense… We really challenged him defensively and he bought in. He was guarding Derrick Rose, Bradley Beal, he’s guarding some high level guys and he’s not backing down. — Jim Moran

He was the spark in the dark the Trail Blazers needed amidst so many injuries. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the sports world and suspended the NBA season, Trent Jr. saw action in 53 games and averaged 7.7 points per game, shot 42.6% from the field and 38.8% from three-point range. A different part of his improved game shined on any give night: three steals against Detroit on Feb. 23; 24 points against Orlando on the road on Mar. 2; five rebounds and four assists vs. Washington on Mar. 4. 

There was no sophomore slump for Trent Jr., and we only wish we could have seen more of his development shine this season. 

Hopefully we will soon. 

Be sure to check out the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Fry and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon along with special guest former Portland Trail Blazer Steve Blake.

Draymond Green accuses Trail Blazers coach of cheating -- here's why he's wrong

Draymond Green accuses Trail Blazers coach of cheating -- here's why he's wrong

“Hey, how much time does he get? How much time does he get!?”

That's the question Trail Blazers assistant coach Jim Moran was overheard asking on the Trail Blazers television broadcast during the fourth quarter of Wednesday night's game vs. the Golden State Warriors.  

With 5:22 remaining in the game, the buzzer went off. It was a dead ball and Draymond Green was at the scorers table set to check in. Only, he remained there for almost 13 seconds, taking off the heating pads on his knees, warm-ups still on.

That's when Moran pleaded with referees, to which they obliged. 

Green, noticeably upset, yelled a derogatory phrase at the Trail Blazers bench, which was picked up on the nat sound microphones on the floor.  

Play resumed before Green eventually subbed in for Omari Spellman at the next timeout, which was with 4:35 remaining in the game.

After the game, Green took exception to Moran's plea.  

 "Asking for a delay of game don’t help you in the playoffs!" Green yelled in the locker room loud enough for reporters to hear after the game.

Green can be upset all he wants, but here's what he needs to know: 

He was wrong.

According to the official NBA rule on substitution

RULE NO 3: Players, Substitutes and Coaches
Section 5, article C: A substitute must be ready to enter the game when beckoned. No delays for removal of warm-up clothing will be permitted.

Green still had his warm-ups on and his heating pads wrapped around his knees. He should have been prepared to enter the game. He wasn't and the referees used their discretion and kept the game moving.

It was just two weeks ago that Thunder guard Chris Paul called out Timberwolves forward Jordan Bell for an untucked jersey with 1.1 seconds remaining in the game, which then resulted in a technical foul on the Timberwolves, helping to send the game into overtime.

The Thunder ended up winning that game.

Green believes now that players and coaches saw CP3 get away with such actions, that they can too.

"Those that cheat the game don't win in the playoffs," Green told reporters postgame. "Monkey see, monkey do. 'I see one guy ask for a delay of game and get it, then I'ma ask for one.' S--t's weak. "

"But that’s the league we in. Everyone cheating the game, whether it’s cheap-a-- fouls or asking for a delay of game.”

There was no call for a delay of game, nor would that have truly mattered in Wednesday's game with the Blazers holding on and beating Golden State by 10 points; however, the fact remains that Draymond Green is out there wanting his opponents to not be tattletales or in his words, to not be cheaters. Also, worrying about the playoffs this season might be a bit premature since Golden State's record is now 5-24. 

Trent Jr. looking to crack rotation, coach Moran looking for Trent to improve on defense

Trent Jr. looking to crack rotation, coach Moran looking for Trent to improve on defense

A group text message quickly became a place to bond for the summer Trail Blazers.

This year, all eyes were on second-year player Anfeernee Simons, who was just named to NBA Summer League second-team. But when Simons suffered a sprained ankle in the final seconds of the Blazers’ third game and missed the rest of the tournament, the focus shifted to second-year player Gary Trent Jr.

The 20-year-old quickly picked up the slack with Simons out and he made sure the team camaraderie was strong.  

Portland finished Las Vegas Summer League play by defeating the Milwaukee Bucks 99-84 on Friday night. Trent Jr. led the way with 28 points and eight rebounds, as the Blazers wrapped up Summer League with a 2-3 record.

The overall record may not have shown how close-knit the Blazers summer squad became in such a short period of time.

“It was a great Summer League team. The way they put the team together. It was great. In the Summer League group chat we have, everybody was joking… You could tell we gelled together quick, just it couldn’t translate on the court, but it was still fun, it was great to meet those guys,” Trent Jr. said.

The Blazers shooting guard not only took charge off the court, but he also averaged 28.4 points on 41% shooting from the field to go along with 6.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists.

Portland’s Summer League head coach, Jim Moran spent a majority of Trent Jr.’s rookie season working with him day in and day out.

Coach Moran is eager for Trent Jr. to make a leap on the defensive end.  

“I work with Gary every day, so he had 28 tonight, but I look at the defensive stuff. So, for me when I watch the film I’m going to be focused more on the defensive mistakes,” Moran said.

“I know he’s a scorer, I know he can shoot, he’s a talented player, but I think as a coach you’ve just gotta keep working on their weakness and I think right now just getting him to buy in more on the defensive end... But, I’m happy for him. He had some good games out here,” Moran added.  

Coach Moran knows Ternt Jr.’s defensive mindset is a working progress. Right now it’s all about repetition for the young Blazer. 

“Every time I go to talk to him about defense, he’s shaking his head going, ‘I know, I know,’ so we’re on the same page about it, it’s just a matter of committing to it every day,” Moran said with a smile.

“The opportunity to lead and just play,” Trent Jr. said was the biggest positive takeaway for him personally. “All last year, I didn’t really play that much, so just getting the opportunity to get on the floor, get up and down, being able to get a foul, being able to knock down a jump shot, it’s a great feeling."

It was evident by watching all five games played in Las Vegas that the game has slowed down for the Blazers shooting guard.

“Just being patient, I know where to get on the spot where I can get my shot off within the offense. I know the plays pretty well now, so just… be patient, let the game come to me,” Trent Jr. said.

As the son of former Trail Blazer Gary Trent Sr. now sets his sights on cracking the rotation for the 2019-20 season with the Blazers, he knows he must have an impressive training camp in the fall and make sure to “control” what he can on and of the floor.

“Really just control, what I can control. Just continue to work, if the opportunity comes I’ll be ready,” Trent Jr. said.

2-way contract player Jaylen Hoard finding his way on Trail Blazers summer squad

2-way contract player Jaylen Hoard finding his way on Trail Blazers summer squad

LAS VEGAS – Thursday marked the fourth Summer League game for the Portland Trail Blazers. It was a hard-fought game between the Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder. Portland was down by as many as 14 points, but despite their fight back mentality, the Blazers were unable to complete the comeback. Portland drops to 1-3 after losing to OKC, 92-87.

The Blazers were undermanned with point guard Anfernee Simons out due to a right ankle injury and rookie forward Nassir Little going down in the first quarter with a left shoulder injury. Little did not return to action.

With Little out, forward Jaylen Hoard was given more of an opportunity. Hoard has been showcasing his aggressiveness on both ends through the Blazers’ first four games in Vegas.

Hoard signed a two-way contract with the Blazers after going undrafted out of Wake Forest.

Blazers assistant coach, and Summer League head coach, Jim Moran has been very pleased with Hoard’s defensive effort.

“Jaylen’s been really good. I think he’s unique defensively because he can switch multiple positions,” Moran said.

“We’re still trying to get him to be more aggressive on the defensive end. And, offensively… just trying to figure out where he fits in the offense, where he’s gonna get us plays. But I’ve been happy with his overall effort for the last four games,” Moran added.

The 20-year-old led the Demon Deacons in rebounding and ranked second in scoring during his freshman 2018-19 season. He finished the year averaging 13.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 31 games. He also recorded seven double-doubles.

Hoard is all about bringing the energy.

“I feel like I’ve been doing pretty good. I just come out there give energy, rebound hard and just control what I can control which is playing hard,” Hoard said.

“Hoard was also very complimentary of his teammates, saying, “We’ve fought really hard through these past few games. Obviously we didn’t get the results we wanted… We’ve played great defense and we’ve really tried to compete as hard as we can.”

[RELATED]: Jaylen Hoard brings versatility to the table

Through his first three Summer League games, Hoard averaged 8.3 points on 58 percent shooting from the field.  

The Blazers small forward admitted there are a couple of big differences from his college ball days to playing against NBA caliber players.

“Guys are much more athletic, quick, fast, you really have to be able to be real conditioned and get up and down a lot,” Hoard said.

[RELATED]: Jaylen Hoard ready to pour his heart out with Trail Blazers

In Thursday’s loss to OKC, second year player Gary Trent Jr. led the way with 22 points.

Trent Jr. has been pleased with the rookie’s performance so far.

“He’s been great,” Trent Jr. said of Hoard. “When he first got here, I really didn’t know too much about him. I know he works hard and he plays every possession. So, he has a bright future if he just stays with it, continues to work hard he’ll be successful,” Trent Jr. said.

Hoard and the rest of the Blazers Summer League squad will play a consolation game on either Friday or Saturday. The schedule will be set late Thursday night.  

Anfernee Simons gets 35 points and an injured ankle in summer-league loss

Anfernee Simons gets 35 points and an injured ankle in summer-league loss

LAS VEGAS – Everything was going very well for Anfernee Simons Tuesday night in Cox Pavilion. He was leading the Portland Trail Blazers in scoring with 35 points in 25 minutes, hitting six of his seven shots, and had the ball in his hands with a couple of seconds to go and his team trailing Utah by a basket. He was in position to tie the game.

But instead, he ended up in a prone position, under the Portland basket after slipping on the way to the rim on an attempt to hit a game-tying dunk or layup.

And with Simons flat on the floor, surrounded by coaches, players and trainers, that was a lot more important than the final score. The second-year guard suffered an ankle injury but was headed for further examination and unavailable for comment.

The injury was not believed serious but there was nothing official at the time of this writing.

The Trail Blazers lost the game 97-93, but Simons was the story – as he’s supposed to be. He’s being counted on to be a rotation player for Portland this season after seeing little action last year. He showed off a lot of his arsenal against the Jazz, hitting six of his seven three-point shots, 13-18 overall, and scoring on drives, a dunk off a lob and assorted other attempts.

“I thought he played really well,” summer league coach Jim Moran said. “I took him out in the first quarter and I probably should have let him go the whole quarter. I still want him to be more assertive and more vocal. Running the team, he needs to be more communicative. But overall, I think he had a really good game.”

Gary Trent Jr., coming off a game when he made seven of his eight three-point goals, saw things even out a bit, hitting 4-15 overall and 2-7 from three for 12 points.

The Blazers’ first-round pick, Nassir Little, made two of seven shots, 0-4 from three-point range and scored four points, with his college coach, Roy Williams looking on from a seat near the Portland bench.

“He’s the most explosive player I’ve ever coached,” Williams said during a halftime interview.

 

When Gary Trent Jr. hits a couple in a row, "It's all over." And it was

When Gary Trent Jr. hits a couple in a row, "It's all over." And it was

LAS VEGAS – Anfernee Simons, who has spent untold hours alongside Gary Trent Jr. in gymnasiums getting up hundreds and hundreds of shots, knows what happens when Trent gets in a groove.

“When Gary hits a couple in a row, it’s over,” Simons said with a smile.

And it was over early Sunday night and Trent hit more than two in a row.

Trent hit all six of his three-point shots in the first half, made 10 of his 12 shots from the field in Cox Pavilion and seven of his eight three-point shots during Portland’s 97-87 win over the Houston Rockets in Summer League play. When the smoke cleared, the second-year guard had scored 31 points in 25:02, along with six rebounds, five assists, two steals and just one turnover in a spectacular performance.

“We just tried to get him the ball and let him go,” said Simons, who had a solid shooting night himself, hitting 6-11 and 4-6 from long distance.

Trent is refreshingly honest about where he is and where he wants to be.

When told what Simons said, Trent offered, “I would like to think that. Me and him work countless hours in the gym with the coaches, just working on our jumpers day in and day out. When it’s time to showcase it and prove it, that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Trent spent time in the G-League last season and it was about the only extended playing time he got during his rookie season. With the depth the Blazers had at guard, he was at the back of the line. And when you’re behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum it’s like going to graduate school for basketball. You better get your homework done.

“I’m not going to lie at all, it was tough,” Trent said. “First time in my life not playing at all, for a while. It was great people and fun to me, that I was learning from them, watching them day in and day out, everything they do – how they work, how they stay after, how they eat. I watched every single thing they do. It makes you work even harder, it makes you more hungry. So, I’m just going to continue to work.”

Both Trent and Simons have continually been asked what they’re working on in summer league and both give just about the same answer.

“I’m working on everything,” Trent said. “I’m not a finished product. I’m nowhere near where I want to be, so I’ve got to continue to work on my all-around game – my dribbling, my shooting, my mindset to the game, my playmaking. Everything.”

Trent and Simons did not play well in the team’s 20-point loss Saturday and the two combined to go 8-26 from the floor. Summer League Coach Jim Moran said he went over a tape of the game with the pair and challenged them to take more leadership.

And it worked.

“We had to pick it up,” Trent said. “Coach Jim Moran said that as well. Pick it up at the offensive end and the defensive end, if we want to win. And that’s what we did tonight.

“I think we bounced back pretty well.”

The team gets Monday off before getting back in action Tuesday.

Trail Blazer summer league team struggles in opener vs. Detroit

Trail Blazer summer league team struggles in opener vs. Detroit

LAS VEGAS – The defending-champion Trail Blazers’ summer league team got off to a rocky start Saturday afternoon in the Thomas & Mack Center.

The Blazers were outscored 25-16 in the fourth quarter and dropped a 93-73 decision to the Detroit Pistons.

Portland made just 24 of 70 shots from the floor, including a 5-for-20 effort from three-point range. Meanwhile the Pistons went 15-41 from three.

“It was tough,” said Portland assistant coach Jim Moran, who is in charge of the summer leaguers. “Very tough. I was a little disappointed. We had a really good week of practice and then that game did not resemble what we did. It was frustrating.

“They were hitting threes early but they weren’t contested threes. We dug ourselves a hole early and then had to give up so much energy to get back in the game. I thought ‘Ant” (Anfernee Simons) was good in the first half. We were a little sloppy. We had some possessions when we really guarded, which was encouraging. I think for Ant and Gary (Trent Jr.) being veteran guys, they’re going to have to be more vocal. And it’s hard – they’re second-year guys. They have to learn that and grow into it."

Simons scored 15 to lead the Blazers, but had only one assist and three rebounds. Trent scored 10 on 3-12 shooting and Devin Robinson added 14 points and 10 rebounds.

The Blazers are back in action Sunday at 7 p.m. in Cox Pavilion vs. Houston.

“I’m expecting us to be much better,’ Moran said, “I’m expecting us to guard, not give up open threes, keep the ball out of the middle. There were some positive things and hopefully we’ll bounce back tomorrow.”

Lillard's trust in his teammates is the difference-maker for Blazers

Lillard's trust in his teammates is the difference-maker for Blazers

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Trail Blazers, heading into tonight’s Game 3 vs. Oklahoma City, have been playing as well together as they have over the past several seasons. Different players are stepping up to help Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum like never before. This team is connected – at both ends of the floor.

And it all started at one of the low points of the season. The foundation for the team’s current play was built during adversity. Dark days.

McCollum went down with a knee injury during a game at San Antonio March 16. And nobody was quite sure how quickly he would return. Jusuf Nurkic would be lost for the season with a broken leg March 27. What appeared to be a season when the Trail Blazers could make a run at the conference finals, people suddenly questioned their ability even to make the playoffs.

Just how many points per game would Damian Lillard need to score per game to get this team on the winning track and into a decent playoff seed? Forty points? Fifty?

Turns out that approach wasn’t the right direction. Lillard had a better idea.

“I go back to those first three games when CJ was out,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “Before Nurk got hurt, but CJ was out. Those three games where he averaged 30 points and double-digit assists – being very efficient scoring the ball and setting up his teammates.

“I think that really set the tone for the rest of the season.

“Damian is very astute. Now he’s been in the league -- this is his seventh year -- I think he’s learned a lot. So I think he understood the dynamics.

“It’s not to say he wasn’t trying to score – we need him to score. But his understanding of the game and its dynamics had a lot to do with it.”

Lillard knows he’s progressed over time and those who have watched his career develop are aware of it. But the world may not understand how deep his intellectual approach to the game has become.

Maybe a few years ago, well...

“I would have taken it upon myself to try to have more big games,” Lillard said. “But I think it’s part of experience, learning and watching film and having a coaching staff that challenges you.

“Like now, when Nate Tibbetts mentions something to me like ‘Hey, I want to show you these clips. I want to talk about this.’ And we talk about it and so OK, I understand that.

“Dave Vanterpool says, ‘Dame, I need you to look at this.’ And Jim Moran says, ‘Dame, look at this.’ Dale Osbourne …they’ve all come to me and that has helped me advance my game as a point guard – mentally, and to know how to manage things better.

“Playing for a good staff, I went into that situation thinking, ‘I need to try to help my guys, where I can put them in a position to do what they do best, instead of me taking it upon myself.’

“And that will make us a better team in the bigger picture. And it will work out better for us. With Nurk and CJ out, it will work out better for us. And it was a perfect situation.

“That’s just what it had to be. If it came to where we weren’t going to win the game, my mentality was, if we get to the fourth quarter and we’re not scoring, then take it upon yourself.”

It’s all about trust – such an underrated ingredient in a team’s success. And Lillard gets it.

“Guys are capable,” he said. “Allow them to do what they do. Because they know the opportunity is going to be there.”

And they know their leader, Damian Lillard, trusts them.

“Exactly,” he said. ”That’s all the difference in the world.”

Credit Blazer coaching staff with a great job this summer

Credit Blazer coaching staff with a great job this summer

Moving forward, I'm not sure we can draw any conclusions about how much value -- if any -- Portland's summer-league championship will bring to the franchise moving forward. But I can say one thing for sure: it's a great tribute to the Portland coaching staff.

For the second summer in a row, the Trail Blazers assembled a roster of players who came together at both ends of the court. This year's championship team dominated every team it played and offensive execution and defensive aggression were a big part of that. And that is coaching. Head coach Jim Moran does a great job with his teams but the credit doesn't stop there. The entire Trail Blazer coaching staff -- Nate Tibbetts, David Vanterpool, Dale Osbourne and John McCullough -- contributes to the summer-league effort and these guys get only three or four days to organize and coach their squad before its first game.

And somehow, they create a solid team in a very short amount of time that plays the game hard and plays it right.

And it must also be pointed out that Neil Olshey has provided his young players a great chance to learn and improve by surrounding them in summer league with unselfish journeymen veterans who know how to play. This season it was K.J. McDaniels, Archie Goodwin and John Jenkins -- solid vets playing to land a job in the NBA or overseas -- combining with experienced Portland players Jake Layman and Wade Baldwin IV to give the youngsters a chance to succeed.

Time to say a few things about individual players who suited up for Portland's summer unit:

  • Anfernee Simons -- Way better than I expected him to be. Not intimidated and very obviously talented.
  • Gary Trent Jr. -- A pro shooter. He knows where he wants to get his shots and how to get them.
  • Wade Baldwin IV -- A legit NBA player who continues to improve. He's defending people well enough to get them mentally off their game. Man, does he need help at the foul line, though.
  • Jake Layman -- If he can bring that offensive confidence and jump shot into training camp, he's going to get rotation minutes this season.
  • Caleb Swanigan -- I'm never sure of what to expect from him. He has NBA rebounding and passing skills but struggles when playing against size.
  • Zach Collins -- He's coming along fast as a defender but would love to see him be able to consistently make shots.

In summary, you can make whatever summer-league victory parade and championship-ring jokes you want, but winning is fun no matter where you do it. And very often a lot or work behind the scenes goes into the effort.