Trail Blazers Notes: Simons, Henderson, Reath, Bench, Grant

Anfernee Simons has become the Trail Blazers‘ franchise cornerstone, answering a looming question the organization had after trading Damian Lillard in the offseason, Jason Quick of The Athletic writes. The 24-year-old guard is averaging 27.1 points and 5.3 assists while shooting 45.6% from the field, 40.0% from beyond the arc on 9.5 attempts and 92.3% from the foul line in his first 11 games.

I’ve put myself out there showing that I want that responsibility every night,” Simons said. “That’s how I’ve been carrying myself.

Since returning from a thumb injury that sidelined him for 18 games, Simons had games of 41 points against the Wizards, 38 points against the Clippers and 30 against the Mavericks.

I think Ant is on his way,” head coach Chauncey Billups said. “He’s our best offensive player, our best scorer. He’s on his way … Ant is still a young player and has a ways to go too … But to answer your question, yeah, he is our obvious offensive guy.

Billups hasn’t been ready to outright anoint Simons as the alpha on the team, Quick writes, but that hasn’t fazed the young guard. According to Quick, Simons is continuing to try and establish himself as the franchise player by being more assertive, consistent and vocal.

With 2023 No. 3 overall pick Scoot Henderson set to develop at the point guard position, there are still some questions about their fit, but Quick says the Blazers don’t feel they need Simons to commit to either the one or the two yet.

I just see [Simons] as a basketball player,” Billups said. “But if he had to play [point guard] full time, he would be elite. If he has to play the [shooting guard] full time, he could be elite there too. He’s gonna be doing both with the way we are constructed right now.

We have more Trail Blazers notes:

  • Simons missed the Blazers’ Thursday game against the Spurs with an illness, allowing Henderson to draw his first start since Nov. 1 (Twitter links via team and Rose Garden Report’s Sean Highkin). As Aaron Fentress of OregonLive writes, Henderson’s first NBA game against No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama was a mixed bag. Henderson had a career-high 23 points and helped the Blazers get into the game after they fell into an early hole, but he also got into early foul trouble and finished with more turnovers than assists.
  • Two-way big man Duop Reath is continuing to emerge for the Trail Blazers and, in a Tuesday game against the Kings, he registered career highs of 25 points and nine rebounds. Reath joined Arvydas Sabonis and Bill Walton as the only Portland rookies to record 25 points and nine rebounds off the bench since 1975 (Twitter link via team PR) and he’s now averaging 10.5 PPG and 4.5 RPG in December. According to Fentress, the entire bench led by Reath, Henderson, Jabari Walker and Matisse Thybulle paved the way for that victory, scoring 65 combined points.
  • The Blazers raised eyebrows when they gave Jerami Grant a five-year, $160MM deal on the first day of free agency with the future of Lillard in the air and the team coming off back-to-back seasons outside the playoffs. However, The Athletic’s Danny Leroux writes that both parties may end up benefiting from the deal, with Portland positioned to trade Grant to a team that misses out on signing a forward in 2024 free agency and has the cap flexibility to take on his contract.
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