The Kings have been trying to find a solution at point guard since De’Aaron Fox left the team, and they may have found their answer in breakout player Anfernee Simons. The rookie has looked like he could be one of the best players on this roster as soon as his feet are under him.

The “where is damian lillard from” is a question that many people have been asking lately. Damian Lillard has had a key role in Anfernee Simons’ leap to stardom and Chauncey Billups has noticed it.

Lillard's key role in Anfernee Simons' leap, per Chauncey Billups

 

The still-depleted Portland Trail Blazers upset the Washington Wizards 115-110 in the nation’s capital on Saturday, putting on one of their most well-balanced games of the season. The Blazers won their third game away from home this season, improving to 17-25 overall and eleventh in the Western Conference. Nonetheless, there is cause for hope in Portland, with Anfernee Simons thriving in the present while predicting an even better future.

On Saturday, Simons dominated again again as Portland’s primary ball-handler, scoring 31 points and dishing out 11 assists, matching a career best established earlier this week, on 11-of-21 shooting overall and 7-of-14 from outside the arc. He scored 26 of those points in the first half, hitting all seven of his three-point attempts while playing in sync with the offense. Simons missed his jumper after halftime, but he still had a big effect because he was ready to move the ball fast when Washington threw two players at him in a pick-and-roll.

Chauncey Billups described his approach as a playmaker as “just opening up everything.” “I admired his patience in double-team situations. He got it out quickly part of the time, but he also dragged the defense a little, allowing Nurk time to gain his bearings. “I really think Ant did an outstanding job reading the game.”

Over his previous six games, Simons has averaged 28.3 points and 8.2 assists, all while serving as the Blazers’ main facilitator due to the absence of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. However, that massive increase in utilization hasn’t been matched by inefficiency. Over that stretch, he’s shooting 51.3 percent overall and 45.7 percent on over 12 three-pointers per game, for a scorching effective field goal percentage of 65.2, nearly 13 points better than the league average.

Simons’ breakthrough performance is driven by more than simply good shooting and finishing. Against the Wizards, he looked like a full-time floor general, continuously manipulating the defense with additional dribbles, wider angles, and clever fakes while only committing two mistakes. Since Lillard’s return, Simons has averaged just 2.7 turnovers, a perfectly respectable rate for any alpha-dog playmaker, much alone one filling that position for the first time while his star colleagues sit.

“He’s really maturing right before our eyes,” Billups added. “It’s not only the flexibility he’s getting from how we want to play as a staff,” says the coach. It’s just been Dame and CJ and those guys pouring into him throughout the years, and now it’s time to prepare for the opportunity meeting. I’m not surprised in the least. Some individuals may be, but I am not.”

On Monday, McCollum will be back in the lineup, and Norman Powell will be back shortly after. Lillard’s return in March or later is still a possibility. When asked whether McCollum’s presence would impact what the Blazers are asking of Simons after the game, Billups stoically declined.

The season for Portland hasn’t gone as planned. Even an implausible late-season run for a top-six seed would not alter this team’s playoff prospects. However, the Blazers seem to have identified a new local star. The next stage is for Simons to keep raising the bar on his game.

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