When asked what the Trail Blazers did to trigger a fourth-quarter rally that came up just short in their 121-115 loss to the Utah Jazz Thursday night in Salt Lake City, second-year guard Anfernee Simons noted the approach wasn’t all that complicated.
Said Simons: “We just stayed positive, took it one possession at a time.”
He could have just as easy been referring to the way he’s approached the last two and a half weeks, a stretch in which the 20 year-old has struggled, at least relative to the lofty expectations he entered the 2019-20 season with, to find his rhythm on the offensive end and defend without fouling on the other.
After a three-game stretch at the start of December in which he shot 50 percent or better, Simons shot 30 percent from the field and 1-of-10 from three while failing to reach double figures in scoring over the next six games. What’s more, he had more fouls (16) than made field goals (13).
But despite the slump, and the fact that his play so far this season in general isn’t exactly what he would have hoped for, the 6-3 Orlando native has never let it change his demeanor. The pressure that young players often put on themselves tends to be more detrimental than motivating, and rather than devolving into frustration, Simons has remained grounded while figuring out other ways to contribute.
“You can't let it affect you,” said Simons. “I've been trying to bring a positive attitude and bring something else to the table instead of scoring, like going out there and getting rebounds and playing defense as well. I've been kind of occupying myself with that more.”
And on Thursday, that approach served Simons well. In a bit of a breakout game, albeit in a loss, Simons went 7-of-9 from the field for 15 points while also grabbing 10 rebounds for his first career double-double. He was satisfied with his play, if not the result, though that didn’t stop him from briefly lamenting what didn’t work out.
“I think I played well,” said Simons. “I was able to get my shot going, get to the rim, got a three in, got my floaters in, so I think I played well, an all-around game. I think I played well defensively, except the and-one, but, you know, it happens.”
He held his own in the unenviable task of defending Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, the and-one with just under three minutes to play not withstanding, and, perhaps most importantly, played the entire fourth quarter.
“I thought Anfernee played maybe one of his best games of the season,” said Terry Stotts. “He had a tough defensive assignment, he was able to score, he shot efficiently.”
Most young players endure ups and downs early in their careers, and considering Simons didn’t spend a season in college before making the jump to the NBA and is playing significant rotation minutes in 2019-20 despite rarely seeing the court his rookie season, ups and downs are too be expected. But for a team desperate for production off the bench, seeing Simons turn in a quality performance after a few difficult weeks certainly qualifies as a positive step as the team nears the new year.