Anfernee Simons

Northwest Notes: Thunder, Dieng, Murray, Blazers, Lofton

The Thunder‘s 57-25 record and No. 1 finish in the Western Conference represents an ahead-of-schedule arrival for a team that looked two years ago like it might be rebuilding for a few more seasons, writes Tim Cato of The Athletic. Still, Oklahoma City isn’t doing a victory lap after going from 24 wins in 2021/22 to 40 last season to 57 this year.

“When we wake up Tuesday morning, we’re 0-0,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said on Sunday. “It’s a new season. Everything that we did in the regular season doesn’t matter except opponent and seeding. … We’ll go into it with great respect for our opponents, but great respect for ourselves.”

While the Thunder prepare for their first playoff series since 2020, the team’s G League affiliate – the Oklahoma City Blue – won its first ever championship on Monday, closing out the Maine Celtics in Game 3 of their best-of-three series (story).

As Cato points out, the Thunder’s entire starting lineup consists of players aged 25 or younger, but not all of the team’s recent lottery picks are playing major roles at the NBA level. Ousmane Dieng, the 11th overall pick in 2022, played limited minutes in just 33 games for the Thunder this season, but he helped the Blue secure its NBAGL title on Monday, earning Finals MVP honors by putting up 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting to go along with six rebounds, four assists, and two blocks in the deciding game.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Speaking to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, Nuggets guard Jamal Murray explained why he wants to spend his entire career in Denver, how he feels about not having made an All-Star team, and why he thinks he and Nikola Jokic are the best duo in the NBA. “I think (other duos are) in a bigger market and people have more interest in LeBron and AD in L.A., or what Dame and Giannis could be, or what Luka and Kyrie could do,” Murray said. “If we’re talking about the best duos in getting the job done and how they play for each other and with each other, I think me and Jokic are undoubtedly number one.”
  • Bill Oram of The Oregonian (subscriber link) looks ahead at some of the difficult decisions facing the Trail Blazers this offseason, including whether the front office wants to push for a play-in spot in 2024/25 or rebuild slowly and seek another high draft pick. If Portland takes the latter route, the club may need to look into moving some veterans, including perhaps Anfernee Simons, Oram suggests. Blazers management will also have to make sure it’s on the same page as head coach Chauncey Billups, Oram adds, given that he has talked about wanting to get the club back to the playoffs next season.
  • Kenneth Lofton Jr.‘s play down the stretch was a bright spot for the Jazz, writes Riley Gisseman of The Salt Lake Tribune. Lofton averaged 16.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 6.3 assists off the bench in the final three games, making a strong case for a spot on next season’s roster. Lofton’s deal with Utah includes non-guaranteed salaries for two seasons after this one, so if he continues to show promise, the team is in position to retain him on the cheap.

Trail Blazers Notes: Injuries, Sharpe, Henderson, Reath

At 19-52, the Trail Blazers don’t have much left to play for, but they don’t intend to shut down any of their injured players for the rest of the season, writes Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. Portland started five rookies Saturday night because of injuries to rotation members, but coach Chauncey Billups hopes to eventually have his regular lineup together.

“I think we have so much growth and development that needs to happen,” Billups said. “Obviously, we know we’re not going to the playoffs. But these dudes need to get better. They need to get to know each other while paying. The only way you get better at basketball is playing basketball.”

Jerami Grant is dealing with a hamstring issue that has sidelined him for the past two weeks, and Malcolm Brogdon hasn’t played since February 2 because of tendinitis in his elbow. Billups expressed hope that both players can return before the end of the season, along with Shaedon Sharpe, who has been out since January due to core muscle surgery, and Anfernee Simons, who had an MRI on Sunday after leaving Friday’s game with a knee injury. Simons is listed as questionable for tonight’s contest, which suggests that the injury isn’t that serious. Deandre Ayton, who missed the past two games with tendinitis in his left elbow, is also questionable.

The Blazers ended the past two seasons by sitting out players to improve their lottery odds, but Billups would rather see progress from his current group than focus on the draft. His teams have been hit hard by injuries since he took over as coach three years ago, but he hasn’t lost 60 games in a season and he wants to avoid reaching that total this year.

“I hate that I’m used to it,” he said of dealing with injuries. “But I’ve learned that it’s something that I can’t control, obviously. I try to always be positive and give whatever I have to whoever is playing the best I can. But it has been tough.”

There’s more from Portland:

  • Sharpe has been assigned to the organization’s G League team, marking an important step in his comeback, per Sean Highkin of The Rose Garden Report. Sharpe will practice with the Rip City Remix while the Blazers are on a two-week road trip and if he responds well, he may be back in the NBA during the final week of the season.
  • Scoot Henderson is sad to see the G League Ignite shutting down after it helped prepare him for the NBA, Highkin adds in a separate story (subscription required). “The coaches, they don’t get enough credit for having to get guys from high school, to get them up to speed in a few weeks to play some grown men that have children to feed,” Henderson said. “You don’t see that. You see them getting beat a lot and having a horrible record. You don’t see the things that they go through day-to-day. From my viewpoint, they helped me in a huge way to be where I am right now. I can’t thank them enough.”
  • Andrew Lopez of ESPN traces the remarkable journey of Duop Reath from his childhood in war-torn South Sudan to becoming an NBA rookie at 27. Reath was playing in Australia when he got a scholarship offer from Lee College in Texas. He eventually transferred to LSU, spent some time in Serbia, China and Lebanon, landed a spot on the Australian Olympic team and played four years in Summer League before getting his NBA opportunity. “I felt a sense of gratitude,” Reath said. “Reflecting on my journey, I feel like every experience played a major role to put me in the position I am today.”

Northwest Notes: Trail Blazers, Henderson, Gobert, George

The Trail Blazers started five rookies in tonight’s game against Denver, writes Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. The lineup consisted of Scoot Henderson, Kris Murray, Rayan Rupert, Toumani Camara and Duop Reath, marking only the second time that a team has started five first-year players since the NBA began tracking starters in 1970/71. The 2012 Warriors were the first, according to a tweet from the Blazers.

The move was necessitated by the team’s lengthy injury list, which grew even longer when guard Anfernee Simons had to leave Friday’s game in the third quarter after hurting his left knee. Coach Chauncey Billups told reporters that Simons will undergo an MRI on Sunday.

Deandre Ayton missed Friday’s game with tendinitis in his left elbow, which is also keeping him out tonight. Jerami Grant is already sidelined with a hamstring issue, and Malcolm Brogdon has been out of action since early February with elbow tendinitis. Billups expressed hope that Grant and Brogdon can return before the end of the season.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Friday marked Henderson’s best performance since suffering a groin injury during the Rising Stars game at All-Star Weekend, observes Sean Highkin of Rose Garden Report (subscription required). The No. 3 pick in last year’s draft, who posted 24 points, five rebounds, 10 assists and two steals in the Trail Blazers‘ loss to the Clippers, talked about his experience with the “rookie wall.” “It’s a longer season now, so you kind of get that wall a little later,” Henderson said. “After 50 games in the G League, you’re like, ‘OK, let’s play another one.’ But when you hit 50 or 60 [in the NBA], it’s a little tougher now.”
  • Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert is determined to not let the pain from a sprained rib keep him out of the lineup, per Johnny Askounis of Eurohoops“You got to embrace the pain sometimes. Sometimes the pain of watching hurts more than the pain of the injury itself,” Gobert said. “It is all about playing through that. As long as I can move, able to impact the game, I am going to be out there.”
  • The Timberwolves fired a team employee this week for stealing thousands of files, some of which contained “strategic NBA information,” according to Baxter Holmes of ESPN. Somak Sarkar was charged with felony third-degree burglary.
  • Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune examines the high turnover rate for Jazz rookie guard Keyonte George and how it might impact his NBA future.

Northwest Notes: Jokic, George, Ayton, Blazers, Gobert

Sixers star Joel Embiid racked up 41 points, 10 assists, and seven rebounds in a comeback victory over the Nuggets on Tuesday, but after the game he had nothing but praise for opposing center and fellow MVP Nikola Jokic, as Bennett Durando of The Denver Post writes.

Embiid joked that there’s a “war” on Twitter between Sixers and Nuggets fans about which player is better, but suggested that Jokic has earned that honor, at least for now, after leading Denver to a championship in 2023.

“He deserves (the title of best in the NBA),” Embiid said. “Until you knock him down, that’s the best in the league, and he’s the Finals MVP. So until someone else takes that away, then you can claim that.

“But then again,” Embiid continued, with a smile. “I also believe in myself. … I’ve just gotta get there.”

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Following a victory over Oklahoma City on Tuesday, Paul George said the 2019 trade that sent him from the Thunder to the Clippers for a package that included Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and several first-round picks has been a win for both sides — and acknowledged that it may have been a bigger win for OKC. “I just think both sides won. I did think it was quite a lot that the Clippers were willing to give up, but their commitment to me is my commitment to them,” George said (Twitter video link via Joey Linn of “… We knew Shai was gonna be really, really good, but he’s special. In a way, Oklahoma won that trade with picks and a future MVP. Great trade for both sides.”
  • After missing the Trail Blazers‘ past 11 games due to a knee issue, starting center Deandre Ayton was on track to return Wednesday vs. Brooklyn, but icy conditions in Portland prevented him from getting to the game, as Sean Highkin of Rose Garden Report tweets. Ayton will presumably be available on Friday vs. Indiana.
  • Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups tried a new starting lineup on Wednesday, with Jerami Grant, Anfernee Simons, Malcolm Brogdon, Duop Reath, and Jabari Walker making up the 19th starting five the team has used this season. After the game, Billups explained that he wanted to make a change due to the slow starts the Blazers had been having (Twitter link via Highkin). The original plan, Billups added, was to move Shaedon Sharpe into Scoot Henderson‘s starting spot, but Sharpe is sidelined with an abdominal injury.
  • While Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert has been lauded for a bounce-back season on defense, he lauded his teammates for making things easier on him at the end of the court, per Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. “We got people that can guard. We got people that can move their feet and take the challenge,” Gobert said.

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.

And-Ones: Panic, Trade Candidates, Awards, Atkinson, Thabeet

Which teams that hoped to be contenders entering 2023/24 should be panicking after slow starts? John Hollinger of The Athletic explores that topic, with the Warriors topping his list (an eight on a scale of one-to-10).

The indefinite suspension of Draymond Green and the poor play of Andrew Wiggins and Klay Thompson “presents a dilemma” for Golden State, which just won the title two seasons ago. The Warriors will be faced with many difficult decisions in the coming months, Hollinger notes, with Thompson’s expiring contract looming large.

The Raptors (seven), Hawks (six), Grizzlies (five) and Suns (four) also hold places on Hollinger’s “Panic Meter” for various reasons.

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Speaking of the Raptors, two of their starters — Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby — are at the top of the trade candidate big board compiled by Sam Vecenie of The Athletic. Bulls guard Zach LaVine ranks third on the 25-player list, followed by his Chicago teammates DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso.
  • Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press takes a look at the early impact of the NBA’s new 65-game requirement for awards, writing that Heat guard Tyler Herro (ankle) and Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons (thumb surgery) are among the noteworthy players who won’t meet that requirement due to injuries, with many others having missed several games already. Herro has accepted that he won’t have a shot at a postseason award. “Next year then,” Herro said. “Or the year after that.”
  • Warriors assistant coach Kenny Atkinson has joined the staff of the French national team, per a team press release. Atkinson, formerly the head coach of the Nets, interviewed for several NBA head coaching jobs in recent years.
  • Hasheem Thabeet, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2009 draft, is signing a contract with the Kaohsiung Steelers, a Taiwanese team, agent Jerry Dianis tells Michael Scotto of HoopsHype (Twitter link). Thabeet appeared in 224 NBA games with the Grizzlies, Rockets, Blazers and Thunder, but has been out of the league since the ’13/14 season.

Blazers’ Simons, Out Since Opener, Listed As Questionable Wednesday

Anfernee Simons could return to action on Wednesday for the first time since the Trail Blazers’ opener.

Simons is listed as questionable for Portland’s game against Golden State, Sean Highkin of Rose Garden Report tweets. Head coach Chauncey Billups said on Monday that he’s hoping to have the guard available for the Blazers’ next game, per Casey Holdahl (Twitter link).

Simons suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right thumb in the season-opening loss at the Clippers. He then underwent surgery on Oct. 31 with a general timetable of six weeks, so he’s a little bit ahead of schedule.

Simons is in the second season of a four-year, $100MM contract. He also missed a good chunk of time each of the past two seasons due to various injuries, appearing in 119 of a possible 164 games.

Simons has developed into an explosive scorer when healthy, averaging a career-high 21.1 points last season while posting a .447/.377/.894 shooting slash line. He also averaged a career-best 4.1 assists.

With Simons, second-year wing Shaedon Sharpe has played an average of 37 minutes per contest, averaging 17.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists.

Toumani Camara, a rookie second-rounder, has also gotten a chance to shine. He’s started in 10 of 19 games, averaging 6.3 points and 4.1 rebounds in 24.9 minutes.

Simons was considered a major trade chip this past summer, prior to the Damian Lillard blockbuster. His return will give Portland’s front office a full-fledged opportunity to evaluate which young players are keepers in the long term.

Injury Notes: Grant, Simons, Duarte, Hachimura, Wolves

Trail Blazers forward Jerami Grant has been placed in the NBA’s concussion protocol, Portland announced on Monday (via Twitter). Grant sustained the injury during the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game against Utah and did not return, per the team.

Grant, who re-signed with Portland on a five-year, $160MM contract over the summer, is averaging 22.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists on .437/.412/.830 shooting in 19 games this season.

In other injury news for the Blazers, guard Anfernee Simons is nearing a return, tweets Sean Highkin of the Rose Garden Report. Simons, who has been out since Oct. 25 after tearing a ligament in his thumb and undergoing surgery, practiced on Monday and is considered day-to-day, according to Highkin.

Here are some more injury notes from around the league:

  • Kings wing Chris Duarte will miss Monday’s in-season quarterfinal matchup against New Orleans due to knee soreness, league sources tell Sean Cunningham of Fox 40 KTXL (Twitter link). It will be the second straight absence for the former first-round pick, who is averaging 4.7 points and 2.0 rebounds in 15.1 minutes in his first season with Sacramento.
  • Lakers forward Rui Hachimura was cleared for Saturday’s contest against Houston, but head coach Darvin Ham opted to be cautious and held him out after he missed a week due to nasal fracture surgery. “In all likelihood” Hachimura will play in Tuesday’s quarterfinal against the Suns, Ham said on Monday (Twitter link via ESPN’s Dave McMenamin). Hachimura practiced today while wearing a face mask and he thinks he’ll be ready tomorrow, tweets Jovan Buha of The Athletic.
  • Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards was a partial practice participant on Monday and is day-to-day after missing the past two games with a hip injury, head coach Chris Finch told reporters, including Chris Hine of The Star Tribune (Twitter link). Jaden McDaniels (ankle sprain) did not practice and will not play this week, but the team is hopeful he might be able to practice next week, Finch added. As for Jordan McLaughlin, who has missed the past month with a knee sprain, he was a full practice participant and he could return as soon as later this week, according to Hine.

Northwest Notes: Simons, Lillard, Milton, Jokic

Longtime Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard faced his former team for the first time with the Bucks on Sunday. Milwaukee won at home, 108-102. Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian writes that, ahead of the game at least, Lillard wasn’t sweating the meeting.

“I thought I would be anticipating more but I’m not really caught up into it,” Lillard said. “I think it’ll be something that I think about more when we go back to Portland. But them coming here, it just feels like another game where I’m gonna see people that I used to spend a lot of time with. The team is really different.

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • Trail Blazers starting shooting guard Anfernee Simons has been sidelined with a thumb injury for all but one game this year, but he remains an active leader with Portland even while not playing, writes Fentress in a separate piece. “It was definitely frustrating, obviously, seeing your team struggle a little bit and not being able to pull out close games,” Simons said. “Those are the times where you kind of get, you know, I wouldn’t say frustrated, but you wish you could be out there for sure, especially in those tough games.” Head coach Chauncey Billups elaborated on how Simons continues to help the struggling team: “He’s leading still and talking still and helping guys still. He’s just itching to get back out here and help.”
  • The Timberwolves are hoping their bench can find an offensive spark, writes Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Minnesota’s reserves are struggling to score consistently. “I don’t think we’ve had enough punch off the bench in general,” head coach Chris Finch said. “Something that’s been kind of up and down for us is our bench production… Right now we’re struggling a little bit with it.” Backup combo guard Shake Milton – who is shooting a career-worst 37.8% from the field and 24.1% on three-pointers – has been particularly disappointing, Krawczynski notes.
  • Nuggets All-NBA center Nikola Jokic seems to be relatively at peace with what he sees as some generous refereeing with regard to his physical defenders, writes Bennett Durando of The Denver Post. “That’s normal,” Jokic told Durando. “Seems like some guys are getting more beneficial calls. Some guys are not. And that’s normal. And some guys can say a little bit more. Some guys can’t. And that’s normal. I accept it.”

Injury Notes: Hachimura, Porzingis, Jal. Williams, Simons

Forward Rui Hachimura underwent surgery on Friday to repair a nasal fracture he sustained during Wednesday’s loss to Dallas, the Lakers announced (Twitter link via Jovan Buha of The Athletic). The 25-year-old will be reevaluated in about a week.

It’s an unfortunate setback for Hachimura, who missed four games earlier this season while in the NBA’s concussion protocol. If he returns in exactly one week, which seems optimistic, he would miss another four games — the Lakers begin a four-game road trip tomorrow in Cleveland that runs through next Thursday.

Hachimura, who re-signed with L.A. as a restricted free agent over the summer, is off to a solid start to the 2023/24 season, averaging 11.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG and 0.9 SPG on .505/.429/.786 shooting through 12 games (23.3 MPG).

Here are a few more injury-related notes from around the NBA:

  • Celtics big man Kristaps Porzingis tells Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe that he’ll undergo an MRI on Saturday after tweaking his left calf during Friday’s loss to Orlando (Twitter link). Porzingis, who is averaging 19.6 PPG, 6.9 RPG and 1.8 BPG on .553/.329/.810 shooting through 14 games (30.8 MPG) with his new club, is optimistic that the injury isn’t serious. He also says he didn’t slip, which some players have mentioned as being an issue with the in-season tournament courts.
  • Thunder wing Jalen Williams was unable to practice on Friday and will miss his third straight game on Saturday due to a left hip strain, tweets Rylan Stiles of Locked on Thunder. A 2022 lottery pick (12th overall) who finished runner-up for Rookie of the Year in ’22/23, Williams is averaging 17.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG and 3.6 APG on .518/.368/.880 shooting in 13 games (33.2 MPG) for Oklahoma City, which holds the second-best record in the Western Conference at 11-4.
  • Speaking to the media on Friday, Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons said his surgically repaired thumb is improving, adding that he’s been doing ball-handling and “a little bit of shooting,” according to Sean Highkin of the Rose Garden Report (Twitter link). As Highkin notes, Simons has been out for approximately four weeks, and he was expected to miss about six weeks.