PORTLAND, OREGON - OCTOBER 21: Anfernee Simons #1 and Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers high five against the Phoenix Suns during the second quarter at Moda Center on October 21, 2022 in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Dame Trusts Ant, And Ant Trusts His Hook

The hook shot might be synonymous with centers, but Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons says he’s had that shot in his repertoire for some time.

While he’s known more for his accuracy from deep -- he’s shot better than 40 percent from three the last two season -- and his uncommon athleticism at the rim -- he won the 2021 NBA Dunk Contest at All-Star weekend -- Simons has been putting in work on one of basketball's more unique shot attempts for years. It started off as simply a way to pass the time, but as he became more and more comfortable with the hook, he figured why not try it out in front of the masses.

“I get caught for like 30 minutes just playing around, messing around, shooting hook shots,” said Simons. “I just started shooting ‘em and found good touch in doing it, so I just started doing it in the game.”

The benefits of a hook shot for a player like Simons are fairly straight forward. He’s already got the vertical necessary to shoot over most players, but when he really wants to be sure to get an attempt off, the hook serves as a near-guarantee that a shot is going up, regardless of if it ultimately finds the mark.

“It’s hard to block,” said Simons. “Usually I jump pretty high when I shoot it, I can get up pretty high on one leg and it’s overextended, so it’s a pretty hard shot to block. I’ve found success with it, haven’t got blocked on it yet.”

So when he absolutely, positively had to get a good look with 7.2 seconds to play in overtime and the game tied at 111-111 in the home opener versus the Suns, he looked to the hook. And considering he was being checked by Mikal Bridges, not only one of the best defenders in the NBA but a close friend and offseason workout compatriot of Simons, the choice to utilize a nearly unblockable shot seemed wise.

“I think I’ve had (the hook) for a while now, I bring it out once in a while,” said Simons. “That one was just instincts. I got my good rhythm going into the hook, just shot it and shot it with confidence.”

Simons’ hook found the mark in what would be the game-winning attempt of a 113-111 victory in front of a soldout crowd of 19,393 Friday night at Moda Center. But the attempt not only showed the confidence Simons has in his hook, but also the confidence that the rest of the team, and especially Damian Lillard, has in Simons.

Typically, when the game has been on the line in the last decade in Rip City, Lillard is the first and second option to take the shot. But as he’s gotten older, he’s looked to share that load, which can be both a blessing and a curse, with others. So rather than looking for his own shot in the waining moments of overtime, he turned the ball over to Simons, even though his young ward had struggled from the field for most of the evening.

“I told Ant over and over again what it’s going to look like sometimes,” said Lillard, who finished Friday’s win with 41 points, seven rebounds, three assists and a block in 42 minutes. “Sometimes you’re not going to have it going, you’re not going to feel good about your game but you’ve still got to look at yourself and know ‘I’ve got to find those moments. I’ve still got to be able to come up big regardless of what else happened for the rest of the game.’ I just think I’ve been in that situation a lot of times, I’ve made big shots a lot of times and I’ve missed a lot of times. But I think it’s going to be big for him to see that I’m willing to trust him in those moments. I made a conscious decision to do that.”

Granted, the Suns made Lillard’s decision to defer to Simons easy by making him the focus of their defensive effort in what would be Portland’s last offensive possession, but he’s managed to get clean looks off in similar situations. But in a new season and with what, in many ways, is a new team, Lillard’s decision was a clear message that he’s willing to try to win in new ways.

“First and foremost, it says a lot about Dame,” said head coach Chauncey Billups. “To be having a night like he was having after having struggled from the field in the first game, it says a lot about him, that he’s just a team guy. We knew that they were going to blitz him or fire at Dame and I said ‘Everybody has to be ready. I don’t know who is going to get this last shot, I don’t know who’ll get the opportunity, but I know who won’t. They gonna blitz Dame.’ He was patient, he took the fire, got off of it and it just speaks to the confidence that he has, obviously, in Ant but in all of these guys. That’s what we’re trying to continue to build.”

The instinct to call for the last shot is strong for a player like Lillard, who has created some of the most indelible moments in recent NBA history by his willingness to take and ability to make last-second shots. But in the end, he realized what was best for the team, both in the short and long term, was to give his new backcourt partner the last look.

“They doubled me, I passed it to him and for a split second I was like ‘I’m going to wait for a little bit them I’m going to flash back to the ball,’” said Lillard. “But then I was just like, it happened two or three times where they ran two at me and then the next possession he had it and they didn’t run two at him, so I was just like, it’s a perfect opportunity for me to take a step back and trust him to make the right play or make a big play. And also knowing that he’ll probably get a cleaner opportunity than I will knowing that they’ve been running two guys at me any time I had some space at the top. That’s the way it’s got to be. It has to be balance, it has to come from different angles.”

“If people know it’s going to be me every time it makes it easier to guard me and they’re able to lean on the fact that we’re now showing that we truly trust each other. So I think it was a moment to do that, I chose to do that and he came through and made me look good, I guess.”

Portland’s victory came down to something the team talked a lot about during the run up to the regular season: trust. Dame trusted Ant, Ant trusted his hook and Billups trusted that his guards would make the right decision. And in the end, they were all rewarded with an impressive win against one of the best teams in the Western Conference.

“They doubled Dame at the end, he gave me the ball, had trust in me to go make a play,” said Simons. “That’s just the believe he’s got in me. Like I’ve been saying from the beginning, he knew this day would come and so he’s been telling me throughout the whole game, even when I wasn’t making shots, he just said ‘Keep going, keep going.’

“He trust me in that situation to go make a play, for myself or anybody else. It proved right this time.”